Bryan Caplan  

Republicans and Technocrats

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On Monday, Brad DeLong told us that two months in the Clinton administration convinced him that...
America's best hope for sane technocratic governance required the elimination of the Republican Party from our political system as rapidly as possible.
I'm tempted to say, "In other words, there is no hope, because the Republican Party isn't going to be eliminated."  But here's a more constructive thought for technocrats:
The main reason Republicans ignore technocrats is that almost all technocrats are Democrats.
Consider: If most technocrats were Republicans, would Democrats listen to them?  I doubt it.  Before you heed advice, you've got to trust the motives of the adviser.  Hence the following conjecture:
America's real best hope for sane technocratic governance is partisan balance among technocrats.
Something which actually might happen, unlike the sudden death of the political religion of a third of the country.

Democratic technocrats will probably protest, "How could I join the Republicans when they oppose all things technocratic?"  To which the right response is, "You have to make the first move.  Sure, they won't trust you for a while.  You'll have to pay your dues just like any other convert.  But eventually, you'll get a seat at the table.  If technocracy is what you want, this is the way to get there."

COMMENTS (16 to date)
Dave writes:

You need a theory of why all the technocrats are democrats.

George writes:

"You have to make the first move. Sure, they won't trust you for a while. You'll have to pay your dues just like any other convert. But eventually, you'll get a seat at the table. If technocracy is what you want, this is the way to get there."

I'm not certain that conceding to the Republican Party (in its current form) would do anything. There have been plenty of political concessions made in the past two years and the only change I've observed in the GOP is fundamentalist entrenchment.

ChacoKevy writes:

Perhaps I need to ask for what a working definition of what a technocrat is? There are obviously many, many conservative technocrats, and the Republican leadership can't wait to expel them from leadership roles.
Am I mistaken that it appears that Milton Friedman was tolerated more than embraced by conservative leadership? Is Bernanke not a technocrat? Or is he no longer a Repulican? I feel like the Bartletts, Stockmans, Powells, O'neills, Frums, etc. would reject the idea that democrats need to make the first move. Indeed, I don't even know what a democrat could do to make a republican open to the ideas from a bipartisan technocracy.
Scratching my head here...

Ben writes:
The main reason Republicans ignore technocrats is that almost all technocrats are Democrats.

DeLong's solution doesn't necessarily follow from his stated problem, but I don't think you've diagnosed the problem accurately. DeLong is commenting on Rick Perry's remarks about Ben Bernanke. Bernanke is a Republican technocrat.

If most technocrats were Republicans, would Democrats listen to them? I doubt it.

There are plenty of Republican technocrats, particularly in business- and military-related roles. Democrats certainly don't universally agree with them, but they generally do listen, out of respect for their technical expertise.

Megan McArdle writes:

. . . except when they're dismissing them because they're too intimately connected with business and the military, and therefore cannot be as objective as someone with no experience of either.

Sonic Charmer writes:

I'm inclined to agree with him that the Republican Party is probably a barrier to "technocratic governance", which is one of the few solid points in favor of the Republican Party I think I'd be able to muster under duress.

Or maybe I missed the part where the professor explained just exactly what "technocratic governance" is, why it is so objectively great and to be sought after, what its track record is and why that track record warrants instituting it, why we suffer from its supposed lack, etc. Because absent any of that that, his post reads like that of, say, a fundamentalist complaining that the Democratic Party prevents our from being a "Christian nation".

In either case, the answer is Yeah maybe, so what?

Patrick R. Sullivan writes:

I'm amazed that economic historian DeLong would use the term 'technocratic governance', given its lineage. Think Huey Long, Upton Sinclair, Veblen, Engels....'Production for Use'.

Essentially, it's fascism.

Cahal writes:

Whilst I agree with Delong that the Republican party have recently become less of a group of people with different views and more of a bunch of absolute lunatics who don't have a coherent view and seem hellbent on destroying the American economy just so they 'win'...technocratic governance sucks. Why? because it's what we've effectively just had. Unelected policy advisors, massive influence from economists, both parties in most democracies adhering to the same essential views.

Historically, democracy has proven to be a better tool for policy than economics (I can hear Bryan's teeth grating from here).

Thomas Sewell writes:

The Republican base's technocrats sincerely want the federal government to have less power and to govern and regulate less.

The Democratic technocrats seem to want to substitute their judgement for the judgement of the people governed. Leaving aside the public choice considerations of what their real preferences and interests will work towards, the Republican base's position is that even in an ideal situation they're still going to have an information problem.

The basic problem is that those on the right who are smart enough to be in the same ranks as the technocrats on the left also want sane technocratic governance... and the first principle of that governance is to take the power to force people to do stuff away from the federal government as much as possible, not to give it more power.

This is a basic philosophical difference that isn't going to go away by the smart people on the left agreeing with themselves that the smart people on the right are all stupid and/or evil instead of confronting their arguments.

Lord writes:

There is no help then since technocratic is the absence of partisanship, not just another avenue for partisans. Only a partisan could conclude the solution to partisanship is balanced partisanship.

Yancey Ward writes:

DeLong's real complaint is that Democratic technocracy is opposed by Republican technocracy. What DeLong is longing for is governance without having to worry about opposition. It really is that simple.

bruce writes:

Sonic charmer wins the thread

Marcus writes:

Doesn't "technocratic" generally refer to "good government reform"? As in, a technocrat asks: how can we improve how government works so that it is more effective?

The major conflict between Republicans and Democrats is whether government is "too big" or "too small" and it's a philosophical disagreement separate from technocracy (is that a word?). Someone who thinks government is the problem doesn't even consider the "technocratic improvement" to be an option, so there tend not to be Republicans willing to compromise toward a technocratic end.

G Lammert writes:

[Comment removed and commenter banned for repeated policy violations.--Econlib Ed.]

James A Donald writes:

Since republicans are "terrorists" I am pretty sure that when he says "eliminate", he means "eliminate" as in "line them up against a wall and shoot them".

Ignacio Concha writes:

Would not this be an argument for affirmative action in academia so more Republicans are accepted in universities and become technocrats?

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