Our New Technocratic Masters

Ezra Klein welcomes them.

The progressive project of building a decent welfare state is giving way to the more technocratic work of financing and managing it. How government is run, more than what exactly it does, seems set to be the main battleground of American politics in coming years.

Joel Kotkin does not.

An even greater beneficiary of the second term will be the administrative class, who by their nature live largely outside the market system. This group, which I call the new clerisy, is based largely in academia and the federal bureaucracy, whose numbers and distinct privileges have grown throughout the past half century.

I have many concerns with the technocratic mindset. The one I wish to raise here is that the technocrat has no experience working in the context of an organization. To the technocrat, everything boils down to setting the right parameters and imposing the right rules. Implementation is taken for granted.

Within a business, someone with the technocratic mindset does not get very far. The people who get ahead are the people who can negotiate, build organizational capital, manage projects, and sell.

If you want to see how ineffective technocrats are, I give you as Exhibit A the attempts by the government to prevent foreclosures. The rules and the parameters looked good to the technocrats. The results in the real world were abysmal. That is because nobody had any idea what was involved in actually implementing these policies on the ground.

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3 Responses to Our New Technocratic Masters

  1. Paul says:

    I don’t understand why you say that technocrats thought the rules and parameters looked good. When those regs were produced, I read a large number of articles by prominent leftist technocrats (e.g. Mike Konzcal) who predicted correctly that the regs would do nothing to stop foreclosures.

    My broader problem with this article is that it’s technocrats all the way down! What other alternative is there to trying to make policy (or law, or business decisions) without careful technocratic analysis. Now surely it’s true that there are unintended consequences to our actions. But is the alternative to give up on analysis? Isn’t the project you yourself have been engaged in is precisely that sort of technocratic analysis? The only difference between you and leftist technocrats as far as I can tell is that you might want to incorporate other facts / theoretical models (e.g. organizational behavior) to analyze important decisions. But that is an argument between technocrats! You are just reiterating stuff I read in The Org, a book on organizational economics written by a technocrat!

    Joel Kotkin is a technocrat too! He’s an academic and works in a think tank. So does he think that people like him deserve less attention and status? Should he quit his job and leave the policy making to the “real Americans”?

    • Kent Lyon says:

      No, actually what any real person wants is for the technocrats to cease and desist. They have a centralized mindset. Society cannot be “managed”. Look at what technocrats have down to the Elk herd of the Yellowstone: They’ve mismanaged all the way. The problem is that technocrats have a vision of humanity as if it were an elk herd. They have a perverse view of the human, coupled with the idea that they can manage the human herd, cull when and where necessary, manage breeding (mandate contraception, etc.). It’s the new eugenics. The technocrat thinks that he can control nature. It is the ultimate hubris. It is Obama saying he will heal the planet. It is the King Canute fallacy. At least King Canute tried to convince his subjects that the tides weren’t compliain with his diktat. Obama thinks they are. It is delusion, complete delusion. The primary technocratic project of the progressives of the first half of the 20th Century was Eugenics. That wound up in the Holocaust.
      The technocratic vision is the “Vision of the Self-Anointed” to paraphrase Thomas Sowell’s book title. It is inimical to human liberty and well being. The Soviet Union was a technocratic system. China is much less so, trusting more in the invisible hand than even we do (as long as the state has 51% control of the company–which is leading to some bad outcomes there, as it is here). The Progressive vision is a crock. Brazil enshrined it in it’s flag: Orden E Progresso. Look where Brazil is (the land of the future and always will be). The Comptean/Marxist vision is a disaster. The Vision of the American Founders is the correct one. To the extent that we become a “technocratic” society, to that extent we slowly sink in the quicksand of technocratic imbecility. Getting to the moon is child’s play compared to using a command and control system to run humanity. Can’t be done. Techocrats and Progressive are delusional in thinking it can. Climate change is the new Eugenics (along with a recrudescence of the old eugenics with a smiley face).

    • ech says:

      ” Now surely it’s true that there are unintended consequences to our actions. But is the alternative to give up on analysis? ”

      The problem is not the analysis, but the analysts. I worked as a systems engineer on aerospace projects, large and small, for the last 15 years. We did the design trades, wrote requirements, defined interfaces, and created test plans and the like. We are the technocrats of the aerospace companies. However, in most companies, you can’t become a systems engineer until you have substantial experience in design and implementation. The Washington technocrats often have no such real world experience.

      Look at the difference in the teams that Obama and Bush Jr. put together. Obama’s is heavier on technocrats, Bush had more people with business and managerial experience. Obama was influenced by his law and organizer background (technocratic); Bush by his business and MBA background (managerial).

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