Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Democracy or Technocracy?

Americans’ frustration with the federal government is at or near all-time highs. Peter R. Orszag, President Obama’s former budget director, expresses a similar sentiment. In an article for the New Republic, he argues for taking power away from a gridlocked government and giving it to “independent institutions” that will make decisions without undue pressure from politicians or voters.

As Mr. Orszag is well aware, this approach is hardly foolproof. See Catherine Rampell’s response for a good critique.

But I want to note how popular the plan is. It might be less unpopular than you would think....
Read the rest at The New York Times: Stealth Democracy by John Sides


Matt Franko said...

This is scary because 99.9% of Technocrats are morons too, in regards to the realities of our monetary system...

Shaun Hingston said...

You know what would restore Democracy?

If the deficit/surplus rate was a popular average, and the board of the central bank was elected by popular vote.

Then the masses would have a higher chance of understanding their monetary system, and making sure it brings social benefits to all.

Mario said...

If the deficit/surplus rate was a popular average

what does that mean/look like?

Shaun Hingston said...

Simple, everyone puts in the amount the budget should arrive to. Then average across the population, and this value is what the net value for the Government budget. People would then understand that during times of crisis, deficits are needed and times of inflation surpluses are needed. And markets(the electorate) are always right ;).

Mario said...

hmm perhaps.

it seems to me though from the people that I talk to that everyone agrees that more money is needed in down swings and less money in upswings. The problem is that most people think that this time around is the "reckoning" and that we can "no longer afford" to spend money in this downswing...we're "out of money" and "debt is too high" and we refuse to "kick the can," etc.

that is why we have all the mess we have today. everyone think we're in lack and out of money and ability to respond...when all we are is a giant house of abundance and potentiality! We're a powder keg that only needs a match but everyone thinks we're "out of fire" or something!! Life in the fast lane with fools I suppose.

Shaun Hingston said...

I agree, but giving everyone an equal say will encourage them to take a more active role in their monetary system.

The MMT paradigm is simple once understood. Most people don't understand this though, because there is a lot of misinformation.

When anyone interacts with a system, they begin to understand it more. This is how most learning is achieved.

Imagine also having local currencies, each vote has more power and consequently manipulate the system more. More people will understand how their monetary system works, and therefore reduce the amount of disproportionate distortions.

It would also make it more difficult for the system to become manipulated in the future.

People will realize the obvious, any State that issues its own currency can not run out of money.

Mario said...

sounds neat and I totally agree with the entire premise.

"People will realize the obvious, any State that issues its own currency can not run out of money."

and that inflation can be controlled and is not as serious as they fear it to be.

Truly, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself!!!

Septeus7 said...

I'm wondering how Technocracy became a bad word. The Technocracy Movement aka the Technical Alliance didn't misunderstand stand the monetary-market system they just pointed out how inefficient it was.

We know that so-called indirect democracy is a total failure and I doubt that direct democracy will fair much better.

It seems that Oligarchy is most and only actual form of government that has existed despite pretenses to the contrary so why not have technically qualified and meritocratic oligarchy as opposed to today's dictatorship of gamblers and speculators. The Chinese are more technocratic and they are kicking our asses.

After reviewing Plato's "Republic" and Aristotle's "Politics" I've suggested a new system based direct democratic veto and a technocratic body doing legislation so the system very similar to our Republican form just without the pretense and lie that 535 people can represent the will of a nation of 300+ million.

The simple fact is the the principle of the "golden mean" applies to politics and that the of the 3 classical forms of government all of them are deficient. A republic is the idea of finding a "golden mean" or balance between the 3 necessary political forces that exists in all societies at all times. The forces are the one or leader, the lesser i.e. the commoners by class and the oligarchs by number, and the greater i.e. the commoners by number and the oligarchs by class.

So given this eternal principle of human social relations we must give up our fantastic ideas about a pure form of democratic government and restore the balance of power away from the Garchs.

The Congress represents the oligarchy and always has and always will and so under the classical geek understanding of politics the one and many must be given direct voice. (Continued on next post).

Septeus7 said...

I suggest 3 revolutionary changes. I would call them "Reforms" but Obama ruined the word.

1. The presidential campaigns must be entirely publicly funded so that we can have a independent One or leader and membership to congress whether past or present disqualifies the person from running, Executives must be separate from the legislative body not only institutionally but by pedigree.

2. The people must have direct powers to stop crimes that the other bodies will always try to commit against them. However, I could not think of way to allow the people to legislate directly in meaningful,timely fashion and deliberative rational way. What the people lack is the power to say no. We must have direct veto power over legislation and perhaps even judicial decisions.

The power to say no doesn't require require as nearly as much time and resources to propose legislative and to the work of a legislature. The common man will never be his own legislator, he simple doesn't have the time, skills or interest.

But he can very easily say no to a bad idea. Bad ideas have to be sold and that take work to do while saying no require no work. The people since 2006 have been against the wars, the bailouts, against the looting of Social Security and Medicare.

Either power is shared by people in the institutions with the public outside or it isn't. Either the people are sovereign or the captured bureaucracies are sovereign. There are no other options. (Continued on next final post).

Anonymous said...

Technocracy originally meant 'rule by engineers and technicians' with energy accounting instead of a price system.

Tom Hickey said...

Wikipedia — Technocracy

Technocracy can be compared with Plato's ideal government by sages. The chief difference between technocracy and the Platonic ideal is that the sages, "guardians" he called them, were specially trained for the task as a class, and they were not allowed to hold private property so they could be become corrupted.

Plato distrusted democracy for two chief reasons. First, ordinary citizens are not skilled in statecraft and lack the necessary breadth and depth of knowledge it requires. Secondly, he saw the Athenian democracy of his day as an ongoing conflict between ordinary citizens and oligarchs. Moreover, it was Athenian democracy that condemned his teacher, Socrates, to death for "impiety" and "corrupting the young" with dangerous ideas.

googleheim said...

Good work Mario, mucho good points.

From an aside, I wonder if the Germans are willing to pay back the $12 billion in gold they stole from the Greeks in WWII with interest and inflation to date at TODAY's gold prices given they used it to kill off a lot of people ??

The Red Capitalist said...

All these governmental systems are flawed and will do nothing to further human advancement.

Human advancement will only occur with the development of a 'linear' society e.g. one race, one gender, same goals etc.

Ralph Musgrave said...

Matt Franko’s claim that 99.9% of technocrats are morons doesn’t get us anywhere. As far as economics goes, qualified economists, flawed as they are, are INEVITABLY better at deciding, for example, whether inflation is subdued enough to allow more stimulus than are politicians. Most politicians have not got past page one of an introductory economics text book. Therefor technocrats should take inflation / stimulus type decisions.

And that applies to both monetary stimulus (i.e. Fed type decisions) AND decisions on fiscal stimulus. In fact “fiscal committees” of one sort or another have sprung up round the world recently – taking power out of the hands of politicians. E.g. in the UK there is the “Office for Budgetary Responsibility”.

As to deciding what proportion of GDP is allocated to the public sector and how the relevant money is split as between education, defence, etc etc – that is a purely political decision which can be left to the electorate and elected politicians.

Mario (1st comment above) suggests that because “independent” bodies like banks and lobbyists are half the problem, therefor “independent” bodies like the Fed or the UK’s Office for Budgetary Responsibility are no good either. Mario often comes up with good points, but that’s not one of them.

Ralph Musgrave said...

I’ve just read Catherine Rampell’s article. It’s rubbish. Her argument runs as follows. 1. Decisions on AGGREGATE spending (e.g. relating to austerity) involve changing tax rates, social security benefits, etc etc. 2, The latter involve MORAL judgements, and moral judgements must be left to politicians, not technocrats. 3, Ergo all decisions on spending must be left in the hands of politicians.

As I pointed out above, the decision as to how much stimulus is suitable is a purely technical one. Thus deciding the OVERALL SIZE of any stimulus package should be taken away from politicians. In contrast, the exact make up of any stimulus (tax cuts versus public spending increases, etc etc) should be and can be left to politicians.

Shaun Hingston said...

Technocracy and any ideology based on the idea that a subset of the population is somehow entitled to make decisions that affect all without any form of popular penalty will continue to perpetuate the problems we now face.

IMO Technocracy just encourages the gap between citizens and the mechanics of their Society. If we want Technocrats to play a role in our Society, then they have two roles; shaping policy and education. That is all!

Society must learn to think for itself. It must not be guided by a select or privileged few. Politicians can't or won't properly represent people, it is the game that should be changed.

Democracy means equal representation. How can we have equal representation if media shapes peoples ideas for them?? Don't you think they will just shape which Technocrats we should also elect? The problem is ensuring equal representation of peoples views on all issues. Sometimes people will want to superordinate decisions, and that is fine, but they must be given the option to make such decisions themselves.

If you want a 'caste' like Society then Technocracy is certainly an Ideology that will achieve that. This idea that a privileged few somehow always know better is dumb.

To me the issue is simple, I have said before and I'll keep saying it; How can equal representation occur when there is only 1 binary vote every 4 years??? Thats the problem. Thats what needs to be fixed. Thats what we should be talking about!!!!

Technocracy is just a distraction from this obvious fact. Divide and conquer, that is how they play.

Matt Franko said...


I did qualify my statement as to them being morons... I'm sure they are not morons about other topics...

That said I see a set up that allows for automatic appropriation similar to how we in the US currently run the COLAs in Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid... perhaps designed and maintained via inputs from Technocrats but voted on by the Pols...

Mario said...

wow great stuff here.


I like where you're going with your suggestions for sure. I agree the people need direct say on certain things. Perhaps there could be general voting initiatives on certain types of bills/proposals out of congress. Where literally all people vote on certain things and we go that way. There's always going to be snakes in the fields and I'm coming to realize that and accept that.

I agree with Shanu and Tom too. Technocracy will surely create a caste system while democracy is tricky b/c the ordinary man is really not able or suited or interested to deal with such affairs. What's a society to do!!! LOL These were the questions the Fathers were asking in 1775-1776.

I like Ralph's idea that politicians can't decide on the SIZE of the budget (technocrats do that) but they can decide on the content of the budget. But still...who decides the benchmark to decide the size of the budget? Perhaps the President? But then who is deciding how much of a tax cut and how much money to this dept, etc.? The operations guys? That doesn't seem right. It needs to be flushed out but I think there's something in that idea of breaking up the decision process somehow.

Mario said...

I think the real issue lies in politics and the fact that our politicians are no longer technocrats in their field. They are con men. It is always good to be a technocrat in your field. I would never argue against that. However these days our "technocrats" have tunnel vision and are really pushing their own agenda at the end of the day. So by definition they are not really technocrats AND many are independent and unelected to boot. I include the entire media cartel into this sphere as well. That is my problem with them. Let's face it if technocrats did run the show, they would be quite tempted (and likely submit to the temptation) to corrupt their skills to favor ideas that benefited them. It's the USSR all over again imho! And since they are the authority, who's going to stop them? NOT a good idea at all...even worse than what we have now imho. So I still stand by my statement that the Fed, the budget committee, the treasury, the EPA, the FCC, CNN, LOL, etc. they are all not functioning properly and they are a major reason for our problems today. Our technocrats are not doing their jobs properly. I am reminded of the killing of Julius was probably the right thing to do in terms of a democracy but what a tough call to make. Everyone needs to be curbed in their power in real ways, otherwise bad things happen. So says Aesop. LOL ;)

The skill of a real politician...a in rhetoric, civil service, manners (yes manners), logic, law, and civilization/history. That is the technocracy of a politician (if that's a word!). By all standards our politicians have failed us.

If our politicians really were the technocrats they are supposed to be we wouldn't be having all of these problems. Best to close the barn door once the horses are back in their stables imho. This is the root of the problem, b/c all other things stem from them and can be stopped through them. They don't have to elect these judges, they could issue legal action against Wall St., they could hold the media accountable, they could get the real facts straight (and not bring in Schiff of all people to get advice!!!), etc., etc., etc. whew!!!

Mario said...

I think the bottom line is we are in a major paradigm shift at the moment, so it's a little rocky to say the least. Call it the book of revelation, the new age, the mayan calender, cosmic karma, a bad generation, the second coming, poor dieting, whatever!!! Who cares!!! But it does really come down to stop the money trail in DC, expect more from everyone in terms of their skills and abilities (aka demand REAL technocrats in ALL fields), and give the people a direct channel into government. But the catch 22 is that if nobody knows what a REAL technocrat looks like and everyone in power LIKES the money trail, and the people have no way of establishing a direct voting channel...then how does anything ever actually happen? This is a major problem in America today it seems to me. Personally, I think it comes down to a divinely sparked combination of luck, preparedness, and opportunity (aka the Rebel Alliance!!). And until the convergence point is hit, we can just keep working on the preparedness part. It's like that phrase "virtue is its own reward." how true.

Speaking of Plato, I am reminded of the cave analogy...right now we (America) are up against the wall looking at the shadows on the wall. Nobody knows or can tell what's real and what's a lie, b/c we're all looking at shadows. It's chaos and confusion. Eventually though (according to Plato) the chains are loosened and we climb over the wall...and eventually out into the sun. I don't recall Plato elucidating on how exactly those chains were loosened however. LOL! Perhaps trial and error and determination and humility?

The idea with the American Project was never about how to become the most powerful, wealthiest, successful nation in the world imho. It was about how to create the most pristine government and institution to enable the freedom of all men. THAT is America. And that needs to stay at all costs imho. I'd rather fail at such a lofty goal than succeed in a top-down committee of "experts."

(out of the mouths of babes...) ;)

I'm fine with not being the most powerful nation in the world, as long as it's the most free nation on the planet. The founding fathers had a very different definition of freedom than we typically consider today. For them it appears to be multi-faceted like a diamond and inter-locking and self-generating like the mechanics of a clock. Socrates had it all when it came to these things...he really did. The Philosopher King and the romantic irony of it all. ohh Moby Dick!!!! The WHITE WHALE!!!

Anonymous said...

Recommendations and implementation are the main roles for technical experts within government. A direct democracy would maintain this.
The goal of direct democracy is to put policy decisions in the hands of ordinary citizens from all walks of life. Instead of elections we have random selection. It's essentially jury duty in the form of short term councils. The era of politicians and 'leadership' would be over as decisions would be arrived at through consensus and those randomly selected would not be allowed to serve more than once.
It is also believed that such a mechanism would prevent the formation of cliques and put an end to some forms of corruption.

That the economy is run for the benefit of the few is of no surprise to anyone. Placing our freedom in the hands of benevolent experts, or appeasing today's 'wealth creators', is no solution.

But hey, there are those who are ready to follow their ideals, without compromise, and continue implementing them until the bitter end. Enjoy the ride.

Mario said...

I really like that Laura. It's like 12 angry men on a national scale with the data and information and expertise being provided by specialists in those areas. That is actually very much how Athens was run in that time as far as I know. If they needed info on boats, then they'd talk to the boat carpenter, etc., etc. Such a system would also be more practical and less unnecessarily confusing too since most ordinary people can't read crazy ridiculous legal/political jargon.

Personally I've always found ordinary people quite capable, intelligent, and able to work more than sufficiently well. I mean heck I'm one of them and so is this entire blog! If we the people can't do this then wtf is going on!?!?

I guess I have more faith in the ordinary citizen than Plato did.

I'd be willing to take that system for a ride. I guess the Founding Fathers really went more towards a democractic republic rather than a direct democracy. "And that has made all the difference" as the poem goes I suppose!

Mario said...

hey all check this out:

you can build your own budget and send it to congress, blah, blah, blah.

I did it for fun and at the end you can make notes. So of course I wrote a small schpiel on no US bankruptcy, nominal deficits aren't important, watch inflation and output gap, etc. And then I linked to this blog, billy blog, and new economic perspectives.

Perhaps if many of us do the same, it might be a good thing.


Septeus7 said...

Sorry about the last post. I thought it went through but it didn't.
Here's my last proposal...

3. The Congress must evolve into a more meritocratic and technocratic institution. The Congress is already elitist and technocratic. What we need is the requirement all member musts have a Phd in some hard physical science and pass a test on the fundamentals of monetary system operations as they have the power of the purse.

Further more the Congress will be divided from a general body into a upper and lower chamber based on technical qualification regarding the subject of the legislation. i.e. we have electrical engineers or legislators closest to having electrical engineering knowledge deciding on regulatory standards for the national grid not some oil company lawyer. We will have computer program decide on the weighting of the chambers out of the general body so it cannot be manipulated by some so-called senior leadership or party hacks.

We may want to extend the size of the Congress or even have multiple Congressmen for each seat who can only vote regarding a certain basic sectors the real (physical) economy.

The system is somewhat Confucian but directed at the limiting governing classes rather than limiting the merchants and farmers in favor the military aristocracy i.e. the most common criticism of Confucian bureaucracies.

So I've taken the American invention of "balance of powers" under a Constitutional system and paired it with a Confusion "Imperial examination" system. The Confusion system despite it's defects in balance of power lasted 1300 years so we know it can be a very stable institution.

I call this hybrid system a Democratic Technical Republic or DTR. It's just a improvement for an age of instant communication and large populations.

Ralph Musgrave said...

Mario, You haven’t quite got my idea quite right (your September 29, 2011 12:44 PM comment). I’m saying that the proportion of GDP allocated to the public sector is a political decision, as is the make up of that public spending (defence versus education, etc). In contrast, the question as to how much stimulus is justified, taking into account inflation etc, is a technical decision.

The latter question is actually already taken TO SOME EXTENT by technocrats, in that central banks adjust interest rates. Trouble is that politicians can also influence stimulus when they fund spending by borrowing rather than by tax. That’s like having a car with two steering wheels, one controlled by a husband and one by the wife in the middle of a matrimonial breakdown.