Tuesday, December 27, 2016

William Easterly — Democracy Is Dying as Technocrats Watch

I have no sympathy for Trump’s repulsive disregard for facts, truth, and legitimate expertise. Yet he was canny in identifying how both parties’ technocratic mindset — their approaching every problem with a five-point plan designed to produce evidence-based deliverables — had left democracy vulnerable. Trump knew that if he waged a war on democratic values, the technocrats who now monopolize the country’s political elite would be incapable of fighting back.
Technocrats have always shown little interest in fights over fundamental values. Their work proceeds from the assumption that everyone — or at least all the people who truly matter — already share the same enlightened commitment to democratic values. The only debate they are concerned about is over evidence on “what works” among policy inputs to produce the desired measurable outputs, like higher wages and GDP, less poverty, less crime and terrorism, or less war.
The problem occurs when some people turn out not to share those enlightened values and insist on challenging them. Technocrats, in these situations, don’t know what to say because they can’t rely on evidence to make their case. So when technocrats are all we have to defend democracy, fights over fundamental values become embarrassingly one-sided....
In the first place, the author conflates a liberal democracy as rule of, by and for the people with a modern republic, which is rule by a technocratic elite that is more an oligarchic plutonomy than a liberal democracy.

Secondly, the author ignores the role of power and accentuates knowledge and skill as determinants in governance based on numbers rather than tangible results, when the fundamental political question at election time is, "Are you better or worse off than four years ago?" What's good for America in terms of numbers is not necessarily good for most Americans in their wallets.

Thirdly, the author fails to understand that the two party system in the United States gives many if not most not one to vote for, but rather leaves them with the Hobson's choice of voting for the least bad candidate — or not voting at all to "send a message" that no one ever seems to hear.

Fourthly, the paradoxes of liberalism are ignored in the assumption that "Enlightenment values" spontaneously led to optimal governance and optimal social, political and economic outcomes. Owing to the many paradoxes of liberalism, this is not the case automatically.

Foreign Policy
Democracy Is Dying as Technocrats Watch
William Easterly | Professor of Economics at New York University and author of The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good.
ht Mark Thoma at Economist's View

8 comments:

Matt Franko said...

"The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill "


sounds like the alt-right could have written that....

Matt Franko said...

"Trump’s repulsive disregard for facts, truth, and legitimate expertise."

Trump's the only one who ever said "you dont go bankrupt because you just print the money"

So I dont know what the hell this guy is talking about...

and here:

"Technocrats have always shown little interest in fights over fundamental values. Their work proceeds from the assumption that everyone — or at least all the people who truly matter — already share the same enlightened commitment to democratic values. The only debate they are concerned about is over evidence on “what works” among policy inputs to produce the desired measurable outputs, like higher wages and GDP, less poverty, less crime and terrorism, or less war."

No shit Sherlock thats what makes them technocrats in the first place...

I literally cannot understand what this guy is trying to say...

Bob said...

Are you receiving a royalty every time you use the word "paradox"?
It remains to be seen if Liberalism (the status quo) will reach a compromise without excessive bloodshed. Given human history and behavior, the odds of avoiding calamity are not good.

What you call a paradox is a deviation from the norm, where no one gets everything that they want, while everyone gets some of what they want. Rewriting narratives doesn't negate the desirability of striking a balance in the short and long term. Any "ism" that fails to balance conflicting interests has lost its usefulness.

Tom Hickey said...

@ Bob

A key assumption is that instituting "Enlightenment values" aka philosophical liberalism will spontaneously result in social, political and economic optimization, just as instituting economic liberalism will automatically result in spontaneous natural order as Pareto optimization.

This is supposed to result in maximizing both personal freedom as independence from government intrusion, produce a just society, and maximize satisfaction as the greatest good for the greatest number. The logic runs that to the degree that this is not the case, government is getting in the way.

This assumes that social, political and economic integration will result from liberal democracy as the most socially free, politically just and economically prosperous from of political organization.

Being philosophical it is idealized. This idealization assumes key symmetries where they do not exist in practice.

When it comes to putting Enlightenment values into practice, there are winners and losers, and many people, if not most don't view the situation as optimal for them.

There are a variety of reasons that this occurs, but a major on is asymmetrical power arming socially from class, politically from the conflation of republican government with actual democracy, which gives an elite asymmetrical political power, and economically from asymmetrical income and wealth distribution that gives an elite asymmetrical economic power.

Quite naturally the winners attribute their success to Enlightenment values, liberalism and democracy, whereas the losers blame so-called Enlightenment values, liberalism, and "democracy" and look for a new deal.

The author of the post is representing the winners. Foreign Policy is the mouthpiece of the Council on Foreign Relation, which is a key piece in the private sector counterpart of the US deep state. He is trying to figure out and explain what went wrong in the election.

Ryan Harris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob said...

@ Tom

He is trying to come up with another narrative to explain the failure of previous narratives and assumptions. If it were just individuals doing this, and not institutions, this endeavor would be amusing.

Noah Way said...

It all makes perfect sense when you realize that Democracy is simply a code word for capitalism. Democracy's purpose (capitalism's goal) is to eliminate any system that competes with it (diminishes profit). Socialism ("communism") and Islam's prohibition of usury make them both dire enemies.

Magpie said...

DISCLAIMER: I haven't read Easterly's whole essay and I don't intend to. After reading this bit I had enough:

I have no sympathy for Trump’s repulsive disregard for facts, truth, and legitimate expertise.

I share Easterly's lack of sympathy. But it is a bit rich to blame Trump alone for a vice affecting both sides in dispute. It's not like his side is particularly scrupulous with facts and truth. They love bullshit as much as the Trumpetists.

Out of the three things, that leaves Easterly's side with the "legitimate expertise" only. I'll admit it here: they do have it. Like I said somewhere else, they have the best expertise money can buy.

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Besides, at least some "progressive" technocrats are actively calling for limits to democratic institutions. Example? Brexit, for instance. After the referendum, remainers were asking for the result to be ignored. To institute double referenda. To torpedo the process.

From that to disenfranchise voters is one step. And there are proposals to that effect already.