Technocrats: The Promise/Peril

There’s a lesson in the European efforts to manage the economic crisis that threatens to sink the EU. I’m just not sure what that lesson is.

Greece and Italy have replaced their political leaders with well-regarded technocrats–men whose skills and qualifications for office are professional and intellectual rather than political. It’s hard not to see this move from glad-handing politicians to technocrats as an increasingly inevitable feature of modern societies; in today’s highly complex world, where local and global issues are ¬†more and more difficult to separate, ¬†“Mr. Smith goes to Washington” is untenable. People in positions of public authority need a level of education and specialized expertise in order to function adequately.

The promise of technocratic governance is that it will be grounded in understanding of the challenges confronting public managers today, and better able to meet those challenges. The peril is that technocrats will be too removed from the citizens they serve–too smug in their specialized areas of knowledge to recognize the importance of the people skills that come so naturally to “retail” politicians.

We need leadership that brings both kinds of skills to the job. And those folks are rare.