EDITORIAL – The rule of technocrats
The European fallout from the economic crisis has so far produced two changes of government, and may produce even more political change before it all settles.
The Greek people raised their voices and the combination of popular dissent and the stark reality that their state could not continue without serious threat to the euro as a currency demanded that something had to be done: that a revision of policy was required.
In Italy, a similar but perhaps less voluble campaign, aided and abetted by the prime minister’s curious love-hate relationship with the voters, meant that Mr Silvio Berlusconi too had to go.
It is a little late in the day to make this point, but clearly a higher degree of fiscal prudence may have made the world of difference to the fortunes of these two leaders. The threat which their fiscal profligacy posed to their European partners spelt doom for their administrations and, to corrupt an old Bajan expression, “today became a funny night”.
A stunning outcome of all this has been the swearing in of Mario Monti as the new Italian prime minister.
Like his Grecian counterpart, he is a technocrat, and he has chosen a cabinet consisting solely of technocrats.
This should not escape the cynical scrutiny of all freedom-loving people, for technocrats as a class are accountable not to the people but to their political masters. In much the same way in our system permanent secretaries and other civil servants are accountable to ministers and not to the people.
There should be no mistaking what has happened, for technocracy, which really means government by experts, is anathema to democracy. It is based on the notion that there is an alternative to democracy that resides in the knowledge which the technocratic experts possess and which can be used to solve the society’s ills.
It smacks of an approach that advocates the balancing of the budget, payment by students for their tertiary level education, and the raising of bus fares to rule out subsidies and transfers.
Unfortunately, that is what it has now come to Italy and Greece, for in a very real sense the politicians there have failed to such an extent that the desperate situation calls for equally desperate measures. The Italian president has therefore appointed as prime minister a man who has never before dabbled in politics and who was appointed a senator two days before being asked to form and head a government.
But how can anyone expect technocrats to reflect the essential concerns of the people, and how can voters hold the feet of the technocrats to the fire when their policies adversely impact the welfare of the people?
In a democracy the voter holds the upper hand and the prospect of losing the vote is always a salutary reminder of where the true power lies.
This voter power is a priceless treasure which we must always promote and protect in our region because it helps to safeguard our democracies and reinforces the ownership of government by the people.
Politicians wield enormous power and are accountable to the people.
They are not expected to be cold-hearted experts clinically managing any country. Their task is to exercise judgementbased on assessing the facts and fine-tuning a solution that takes into account the human condition.
The technocrat is not so warm-blooded, nor is he truly respectful of the vote. He does not have to be, for he is of different ilk.
But, the imprudent exercise of power by politicians can lead to disastrous consequences, for power irresponsibly exercised is the bane of all democracies. Still, the Italian solution is equally a threat to the democratic ideal, for unlike their political counterparts, technocrats cannot be unelected and are not beholden to the people.