Time for Technocracy?
Governments across the globe are stuck in a bit of rut at the moment. A general feeling of despondency as belief in the political system has slowly ebbed away. Primarily of course this is due to current economic uncertainties. People are worse off and hence blame the nearest source of authority. Cries of “politicians should do more” or “make the bankers pay” simmer on the surface of public sentiment. Look at the focal issues of current political campaigning. Labour pitch of dealing with the “cost of living crisis.” Liberal Democrats aims to “ease the squeeze.” If you look at the Edelman’s Trust barometer, which is published every year, only 15% of people really trust the Government. For a globe where most people are allowed to elect their Government this is a pretty poor state of affairs. The whole point of having these representatives is that we elect them and then trust them to get on with the job. For the UK this trust certainly doesn’t exist on a large scale. At the 2010 General Election 35% of people decided to forgo their say. Of course party politics trundles along, forms the Government and says it has a mandate. However maybe it is time that we ditch democracy in favour of something different. Something radical. In favour of a technocracy.
Society is well aware of the benefits of democracy. Everyone is given an equal voice. The Government is held accountable at the end of its term of office. However what the system does for preventing totalitarianism or revolution, it fails for providing any consistency or long term goals. Naturally some policies require us to modernise. Other policy areas, like education or economics, do require a long term stratagem. Attending a University Politics lecture on Depoliticisation, you will likely be told the major benefits of having things in the public domain. However this comes without much thought for the weaknesses for the current system of democracy.
Prerequisites of the modern political party system requires a stream of reforms. These may within the space of a decade take policy in remarkably different directions. Education policy is certainly an area exposed to much political ping pong. The Coalition’s major overhaul of the National Curriculum comes only a decade on from Labour’s attempt. Clearly certain aspects of the curriculum must be changed in order to remain current. Teaching about technology is an essential area where constant modernisation is needed. Nevertheless major changes are only going to muddy the waters for many subjects. Chris Keates of the NASUWT Union described it as, “a pointless review when ministers have already determined that children should have a 1950s-style curriculum.” Altering the National Curriculum after only a decade only serves to muddy the waters of education policy. Party aims to appear to act, by changing recently made policy, is a common facet of the modern media democracy. Labour’s approach for tackling the flaws of the energy market exhibits many of these short comings. Plans to “abolish OfGem and create a tough new energy watchdog.” Reform is clearly needed. The disparity between wholesale prices and customer tariffs is clearly out of kilter. Nevertheless, rebranding the energy regulator is an unnecessary process whose outcome could be achieved by simply reforming Ofgem.
Nowhere is the politics of appearance more evident than in the use of statistics and big numbers for policy. The Labour Government of 1997 announced it would spend £300 million over 5 years to create 1 million childcare places. On the surface this appeared a very sound and popular policy. Helping to care for the children of working families who would previously have struggled. However when breaking this policy down it meant that over 5 years each place would receive £300 of funding. Essentially this equates to £1.15 per place per week.
Maybe it is time to put slightly more of the decision making into the hands of people who aren’t aiming to grab headlines. Rather they are employed to identify the problem and fix it with their expert knowledge. Admittedly this technocratic ideal could not be applied everywhere. Decisions which have an effect on the national character should certainly be left well within their democratic framework. No one would advocate that. However certain policy areas like the environment or education could certainly use policy which remains consistent. Subscribing to a technocracy also has another major advantage over democracy in that difficult, perhaps unpopular decisions are taken which previously would not have been considered. On the environment the harsher cuts in emissions which are needed are currently prevented by public and corporate opinion. This only serves to make the problem even worse.
Personally placing monetary policy in the hands of the Bank of England is one of the best decisions ever made. It prevented politicians using this vital tool to appeal to certain voters, i.e. savers or borrowers. There must of course remain the democratic checks to prevent abuse; however in areas like education, where perhaps it would be better to find an optimum which is supported by children and teachers, there is a good case to my mind, for policy to be depoliticised and placed in the hands of those who actually understand the field they are talking about.