The Decline and Fall of the Technocracy

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Atrios has a complaint:

It’s time to do away with the term “technocratic.” It creates a category of policies which are The Right Thing To Do, yet the rightness of the policies aren’t tested against anything. They aren’t tested against democracy (messy pesky voters!) or results (the economy sucks, technocrats, and this is your doing). But merely say the word and we’ve conjured up images of very sensible highly educated wonky people doing the right thing, even as they destroy the world.

All of that technocratic management has achieved wonders and now messy politics is daring to intrude. Technocrats are doing their best to destroy the world. Intervene, politics, intervene!

Maybe this is just me, but I’d say the word “technocrat” now has mostly negative connotations, conjuring up visions of Robert McNamara more than, say, Jean Monnet. Mitt Romney and Jimmy Carter are widely viewed as technocrats, and not as a compliment. It suggests little men in gray suits scurrying around and staring at their computer printouts without regard to the actual people behind the policies they propose.

It’s true, I think, that it also suggests a kind of person who’s not influenced by the corruption of politics and has no partisan axe to grind, so in that sense it’s positive. But overall, I’d guess that very few people in public life would actually want to be called technocrats these days. It says “out of touch” at least as much as it does “empirical and data driven.”

Yes? No? Tell me in comments if you generally have positive or negative feelings when you hear that someone is “primarily a technocrat” or some such.

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