Ever since I read Daniel Bell’s The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, I’ve been struck by how prescient it was about the tension between technocracy and democracy. Bell argued that as societies become more complex and require technical expertise in areas ranging from healthcare and engineering to economics, there will be increasing conflict with the populism engendered by democracy. What would he make of Twitter-based political dynamics?! The technocratic government in Italy, post-crisis, was a vivid illustration of Bell’s dilemma in action.I spoke recently about the trade-off again in my recent Pro Bono Economics lecture, the likely conflicts between the “what works” agenda in public policy and political populism. Crises or slow growth make the trade-off worse because they encourage populism and because there is no additional output to compensate losers – it’s zero sum.
The Coming Of Post-industrial Society (Harper Colophon Books)
In the fascinating Mark Mazower book I’ve now almost finished, Governing the World: The History of an Idea, he cites Hans Morgenthau’s 1946 Scientific Man versus Power Politics, which from the title touches on the same theme. Mazower says the book attacks the naivety of technocrats and the Saint Simonian tradition of belief in rational universalism. So it seems like this is a constant theme, played out in every era.
As a footnote, the Mazower book has given me another technocratic hero, the Australian Robert Jackson who ran the logistics for the Allies in the Middle East during World War II, having first helped organise the defence of Malta while in his 20s, then helped run UNRRA after the war. There is a biography by James Gibson, Jacko, Where Are You Now?