Why Technocrats Should Stay Out Of Politics
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Why Technocrats Should Stay Out Of Politics

I was thinking about just this thing after reading an opinion piece in today’s Detroit News from yet another technocrat who thinks he’s got a solution to the city’s deep, decades-old problems. His plan, dressed up with a lot of happy talk about building “vibrant central cities,” defaults to (surprise) convincing Michigan taxpayers that they should fund “local services” for Detroiters. This sort of abstract theorizing, divorced from political and public policy reality, always defaults to more taxes, bigger government and “public-private partnerships” led by corporate execs and teams of technocrats. This has been going on for close to 50 years in Detroit.

The writer of this article, Lou Glazer of the nonprofit Michigan Future, Inc., says the city, and places like Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Kalamazoo (full disclosure: I’m from Pontiac) need new “delivery systems” for services. And light rail and bike paths. “If Michigan will not reinvest in cities, then there needs to be some new system of municipal finance put in place,” he writes. Yes, investment. Nowhere, however, amid all the talk of growing the city with “young, mobile talent” does he suggest that there might be some people in Detroit with new ideas about how to come to grips with the city’s problems. Or do they all lack what it takes to turn Motown into a “talent magnet,” as he puts it.

Detroit, a financial review team recently reported, “faces a $100 million cash shortfall during the next four months and has no plan to make $1.9 billion in debt payments during the next five years.” The city was recently put under an emergency manager by Gov. Rick Snyder, but not everyone, including a few pastors, seems to understand that bankruptcy has its political consequences. “I respect democracy,” the guv said this morning. “It’s that human nature feature — everyone likes change, except when it affects you.”

I’m sure PowerBlog readers have their own examples of technocratic hubris. Here’s the top 10 from La Stampa via Worldcrunch:

1. OVER-RATE OWN COMPETENCE As they’ve been called upon because their theories are infallible, if mistakes occur, the blame isn’t on errors in their theories, but an erroneous reality that fails to adapt to them.

2. THIN SKIN Accustomed to academic reverence, they have trouble withstanding political clashes.

3. NAIVETÉ They underestimate the power of bureaucracies, which can derail any attempt at innovation.

4. PROFESSIONAL ISOLATION If the advisors are the ones in charge, who advises the advisors?

5. A QUESTION OF RESPECT Nothing worse than trading in a classroom full of university students who are afraid of you for a Parliament ready to attack you.

6. A MATTER OF EMOTIONS Politics is personal, but you are doomed if you take it personally.

7. TIME Politics doesn’t slow down for those who are used to having time to respond to things (not even when you’re on camera).

8. TIME II Knowing their assignment is just temporary doesn’t stop them from wanting to always be on the *tenure track* instead.

9. HOPE They create too much hope, which inevitably leads to disappointments.

10. VANITY Unlike actors and politicians who know how to handle it, the sin of vanity can take over a technocrat — and return like a boomerang.

Read “Ten Reasons Technocrats Should Stay Out Of Politics” on Worldcrunch.

John Couretas

is a writer and editor based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.