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Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 15:34 | SYDNEY

Technocrats' rise a sign of the times

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17 February 2012 12:46

According to the FT, Germany's Finance Minister has suggested that Greece might want to postpone April's elections and instead install a technocratic government which would not have room for any of the pesky politicians who have so far failed to deliver enough austerity. This is, of course, the Italian model, which saw Silvio Berlusconi replaced by Mario Monti.

Given the mess the previous bunch of politicians delivered, it's no surprise that markets appear to like the idea of rule by technocrat. Certainly, the current direction of policy seems to be based around a determined effort to limit Greece's room for manoeuvre.

I discussed the possibility of this kind of development in a couple of Interpreter posts back in 2010 in which I wrote about the golden straitjacket and Dani Rodrik's idea of a political trilemma for the world economy. Rodrik argued that one way to escape from the trilemma — his term for the proposition that countries can choose a maximum of two out of the three options of democratic politics, national sovereignty and international economic integration — was that countries could choose to don some version of the golden straitjacket, thereby removing economic policymaking from the political sphere.

So, one potential solution to the Eurozone's woes is to (temporarily) take economic policy out of the hands of the politicians and voters and give it to a bunch of experts.

Well, I suppose it's not a completely implausible prescription, given the amount of bungling that has gone on to date. But the technocrats are hardly blameless when it comes to the current Eurozone mess. And the implicit proposition here — that we have this wonderful economic model which would work if only we could find a way to overcome some of those annoying human frailties (in the case of Greece, a reluctance to pay tax, a desire to retire early, and a proclivity to riot when either of the previous two are threatened) — can't help but bring to mind a previous economic experiment that came to a bad end.

Here's an interesting essay from David Runciman in the LRB that also looks at democracy, technocracy and the Eurozone crisis. Runciman thinks we shouldn't be too worried by the current shift to technocracy in the Eurozone, arguing that it's actually a relative strength of democracies that they can afford this kind of political experimentation. Rather, he thinks we should be worried about whether it will make any difference, since the real 'problem for democracies in a crisis is not that no one knows what to do, it's that no one knows how to get other people to do what they are told.'

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