Pros and cons of a technocratic government

Marketplace Staff Nov 9, 2011

Pros and cons of a technocratic government

Marketplace Staff Nov 9, 2011

Jeremy Hobson: Two European countries with two very different histories are on the same path to the future
this morning.

Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says he’ll resign after economic reforms are pushed through. And he’s likely to be replaced by a temporary technocratic government — basically a group of non-politicians who will do the tough unpopular work that’s needed to calm the markets.

The same thing is a possibility in Greece when its Prime Minister George Papandreou steps down. But are these technocratic governments a good idea?

For answers, let’s bring in our own man of the people: LA Times Consumer Columnist David Lazarus. Good morning.

David Lazarus: Good morning.

Hobson: Well don’t these technocratic governments in Italy or wherever end up subverting the will of the people?

Lazarus: Well yeah, not to put too fine a point on it. But if the people’s elected representatives can’t get the job done, then where else do you go? And let’s define our term: You say “technocrat” — sounds like something out of a “Dr. Who” episode. In reality, what we’re talking about are technical experts who are brought in to do the heavy lifting that elected representatives can’t do because they’re beholden to their constituents and have to get re-elected and have to raise money and do all that sort of thing. To an extent, it works but it does undermine the democratic process. It also reinforces the cynicism that many people might have that democracy doesn’t work, because when you elect people to do their jobs, they can’t do it, and then you’ve got to bring in wringers to take care of things.

Hobson: Let’s talk about the opposite, which is what happens often in places like California, where they have this voter referendum and the people really get to have their say.

Lazarus: Exactly, you can’t get more popular participation than that. But that process can also be easily subverted, especially when it’s hijacked by moneyed interests that then take control of these ballot initiatives and guide them through the process and fund them, and in reality what you’re seeing is a special interest serving the special interest’s needs. And that’s not a perfect system either. So you have these two extremes, and both of them purport to help fix the problems that democracy isn’t fixing, but neither one of them is a perfect system.

Hobson: Neither perfect — so what’s the answer, David?

Lazarus: I have the Lazarus plan for you, Jeremy.

Hobson: Of course you do.

Lazarus: Of course I do! It cherry picks a little bit from both. On the one hand, when you look at the ballot initiatives, you clearly need more sunshine involved — you need to have much more transparency as to who’s funding these things. When it comes to technocrats, I’m reluctant to say you want to bring in these guys every now and then to fix things, but it looks like you’ve got to bring in these guys every now and then to fix things. So if I wonder if the United States, maybe every 10 years or so, you bring in a technocratic regime to actually do all the heavy lifting that our elected representatives cannot do.

Hobson: We’ll send the idea on to Washington, David. L.A. Times consumer columnist David Lazarus, thanks so much.

Lazarus: Thank you.

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