Technocracy is interesting

I’ve never met someone who claims to be in favour of technocratic governance. It seems like the only time the word “technocratic” is used, is when it’s used as a pejorative.

But every time I’ve heard someone criticize something as technocratic, I feel like it’s been something I could get behind. It’s always a criticism of letting a knowledgeable group of people make decisions about what they’re knowledgeable about. I for one feel like we could do with a bit more of that.

The accusation “technocratic” seems to be reached for by people on the left and right (and centre) alike. It seems as though the alternative to technocracy is seen to be greater freedom or a more thoroughly democratic society. I certainly see the appeal of that, and perhaps the corresponding danger of a more technocratic approach, but it does seem to me that it’s worthwhile not to jump to conclusions. I have an instinct telling me it could be valuable to withhold judgement for a moment to wonder whether there is something important here to see.

The example that immediately comes to mind for me here is central banks. (I’m sure that I am just rehashing old debates that have already been thought through at higher levels than I can manage, but for now this is the level of my ruminations.) Central banks were at one time more directly answerable to democratically elected politicians, with devastating consequences. It was once central banks were somewhat sealed off from the sort of democratic accountability they were previously subject to, and instead put under the control of experts with the relevant expertise, that economies came to be largely spared from the instabilities of the earlier time.

There is absolutely a place for rights and freedoms and for democratic control, and whatever that place is, we must never diminish it or threaten it. However, that doesn’t mean that every area should be directly under the power of the market or of democratically elected representatives. It seems highly likely to me that there are probably many areas where we would be better off if we were to turn much of the power currently under democratic accountability over to the relevant experts.

I realize there are risks, and arguments against what I’m saying. I don’t think everything should be turned over to experts. We need to proceed on a case by case basis, and in many instances it would no doubt be clear that the benefits of trusting experts would be outweighed by attendant disadvantages. But clearly, in some instances there is great value in insulating the knowledgeable against the caprices of the many; it seems that it would be thoroughly worthwhile to seek out such opportunities and make the most of them.

When it comes down to it, I’m a Platonist. I think that the people with knowledge will ideally make the decisions, and that the most knowledgeable people will be recognized and chosen by the knowledgeable community, not by those of us who are lacking in knowledge. We want to have the sailors choosing a captain for the ship, not the ignorant passengers. My prejudice is somewhat on the side of technocracy — not absolutely, but at least as a general rule.

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