Beware the Romantic Technocrat…

November 21, 2011 by
Filed under: Social Brain 

When you think ‘technocrat’, words like boring, instrumental, management, spreadsheets and briefcase are not far behind. And then there are those red roses, candlelit dinners, pink champagne, soft lighting, gentle music…Or maybe you have never met that kind of technocrat?

Paul Krugman at the New York Times made a striking claim yesterday- that the so called ‘technocrats’ who are now  running the besieged economies of Italy and Greece are actually ‘cruel euro romantics’. Of course, being a bit of a technocrat himself, he uses ‘romantic’ in a rather technical sense:

“They are, to be sure, a peculiarly boring breed of romantic, speaking in turgid prose rather than poetry. And the things they demand on behalf of their romantic visions are often cruel, involving huge sacrifices from ordinary workers and families. But the fact remains that those visions are driven by dreams about the way things should be rather than by a cool assessment of the way things really are.”

His post reminded me of what Jonathan Ree in a different context referred to as ‘para-science’ i.e. the ‘campfire’ stories that scientists tell themselves to legitimise their endeavours.

I think there is a fair amount of para-economics around at the moment- visions of how things have to be to keep the financial system afloat, whether they are feasible or not.


  • James Souttar

    When Italian President Giorgio Napolitano asked Mario Monti to form a government, I began to wonder what it would be like if the Queen asked some of our ‘technocrats’ to take over from our – to my mind, anyway, rather lacklustre professional politicians. Who would I want to take charge at this moment? Probably not a Goldman Sachs adviser (although I’m sure Signor Monti has some redeeming features). Quite quickly, a list came together. 

    The problem was, the more I thought about what it would be like to have these people running our government, the more I realised that democracy fails to deliver us what we really need – competent people capable of making bold and future-minded decisions. And that was a sad thought, for someone who believes passionately in the democratic process. 

    For what it’s worth, my fantasy ‘dream team’ was:

    Prime Minister: Will HuttonChancellor of the Exchequer: Ha-Joon ChangForeign Secretary: John Simpson
    Home Secretary: Lucie Russell
    Secretary of State for Education: Sir Ken RobinsonSecretary of State for Health and Social Services: John SeddonSecretary of State for the Environment: Caroline LucasSecretary of State for Business: Sir Gerry RobinsonSecretary of State for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries: Jamie Oliver