The term “technocracy” derives from the Greek words “tekhne” and “kratos”, meaning skill or craft, and power, respectively. It has come to mean the governance or control of society by an elite of technical experts.
Technocrat Vs Politician
In their nature, technocrats are unelected experts, meaning they do not have to conform to political squabbling and appease the public. A technocrat’s expertise can be of particular importance and use in calming the financial markets and diminishing uncertainty in general.
The fact that these officials are unelected enables them to implement policies that are not popular. With no concerns regarding public perception and getting re-elected, policies that are well-founded in data and knowledge, that act for the greater good, are more likely to be passed. However, this contradicts the growing international opinion that unelected officials are not representative of the needs and desires of the population.
The specialist know-how undoubtedly enables effective, and in some cases necessary, change. However, this abrupt and direct approach calls into question the feasibility of technocrats as a long term solution.
Technocracy Track Record
Greece and Italy have a history of leadership from the technical elite, with the former director of the Bank of Greece, Xenopon Zolotas, also being prime minister of Greece between 1989 and 1990. Giuliano Amato (tasked with responding to Italy’s exclusion from the European Monetary System), Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Lamberto Dini (asked to reform the pensions system) each took office as the prime minister of Italy for a year-long period (in 1992, 1993 and 1995 respectively).
More recently, Silvio Berlusconi and George Papandreou were replaced by Mario Monti (former EU competitions commissioner) and Lucas Papademos (former vice-president of the European Central Bank). These movements illustrate a desire to put national interest above party policies, signalling the magnitude of the crisis, so serious that political action will not suffice.
Technocrats can get into the crux of the role very quickly, knowing what needs to be done and often having experience in dealing with senior political leaders. The measures they have to implement would never accrue sufficient political support under normal circumstances: this means the public’s experience with these leaders is not positive.
The Next Technocracy Destination
There are some examples of technocrats in European history, primarily in Italy and Greece and recently in Hungary and the Czech Republic, but it is unlikely one will see this rolled out on a wider scale. It is a divisive technique used by politicians to justify austerity. However, technocrats generally lack the power to handle backlash.
The unelected nature of this category of government negates the beliefs spreading across Europe regarding nationalism and effective representation. On the other hand, there is a growing need, especially in the UK, for politicians and ministers with a practical background in the areas in which they are enforcing policy – for example, Michael Gove as the former Secretary of State for Education and Jeremy Hunt the current Secretary of State for Health.
Technocrats will continue to be an emergency measure so long as politicians prioritise people over policy.