Against Technocracy

by Andrew Stuttaford

Writing in the Guardian, a hugely over-excited Simon Jenkins returns to the fray, wondering whether we are all “doomed” (here too,incidentally, before we all get smug, but then Derb has already explained that), before getting to this:

Emergency regimes have taken power in Greece and Italy, while Germany could not sell a third of its bonds. Salvation, according to Europe’s desperate “leader”, José Manuel Barroso, can only lie in “stronger governance in the euro area, both in discipline and in convergence”. He wants nation states to submit draft budgets of their taxing and spending to him for oversight, to be subject to Brussels’ “enhanced surveillance”.

This is more than alarming. Today’s European crisis was brought about by widespread popular revolt against the straitjacket of an unrealistic European monetary union. Barroso’s solution is apparently an even tighter straitjacket, and no nonsense about popular elections or national referendums. He wants Europe ruled by Aristotle’s aristocrats, by people like him.

Indeed that former Maoist does.

But then there’s this:

The present eulogising of technocracy, of the power of economic technique unsullied by the mob, has always been the harbinger of dictatorship. We should remember how many Britons admired the efficiency of 1930s Germany and lauded Mussolini’s trains running on time.

And let’s not forget the British intellectuals who slobbered over Stalin’s “new civilization”, another technocracy, complete with Five Year Plans.

But back to Jenkins:

Greece is now talking of a “German protectorate”. The technocrat Italian prime minister, Mario Monti, warns his people that “the management of the crisis has suffered from a deficiency of government, and must be overcome with action at a European level”. We need not reproduce the Greek magazine’s cover of a swastika on the Acropolis to shudder at the phrases “deficiency of government” and “action at a European level”. We heard those phrases before.

Consider the euphemisms. Barroso stamps on a possible Greek referendum as “a breach of trust”. In whom? The new German hegemony (which many Germans are commendably resisting) is called “enhanced co-operation”. Even a Guardian headline takes as axiomatic that a two-speed Europe is to be “feared”. Fast is synonymous with euro membership, German discipline, technocracy and progress; slow with a “peripheral”, populist democracy.

The irony here is that today’s technocrats are the dunderheads or Machiavellians (take your pick) responsible for creating the funny money that was always going to lead to a crisis much like this.  Installing the oleaginous Monti, one of those responsible for steering Italy into a currency for which it was never going to be suited, is a huge bet for hope over experience.

Then again, don’t idealize the voters either: the decision to join the euro was something that most Italians supported.

What was it that someone once wrote about popular delusions and the madness of crowds?