👨🏽💼 The Lure of Technocracy →April 4, 2022 • #
Jason Crawford lays out a theory for why technocracy (the idea that a technical elite can lead a nation to technological progress if given the top-down control of economic and scientific policy) fizzled out around the 1970s:
In the early 1970s, a perfect storm of events conspired to discredit the technocratic idea, including Vietnam, Watergate, and the oil shocks. By 1973 it was clear that our leaders were unfit to govern, in terms of either competence or ethics: they could not handle affairs at home or abroad, neither the economy nor foreign policy, and they were plagued by scandal.
From the 1970s on, the conversation changed. The belief in progress was not totally dead. But the idea that it could be achieved centrally by the elites held much less sway, and there was a major new element of distrust and skepticism at the very idea of progress—an element that has not gone away, and indeed by today has gone mainstream.
I don’t think the technocratic worldview is gone at all, though I do agree with his point that technological progress is seen with a skeptical eye by many in the west, especially over the last 20 years or so. Perhaps it’s that today’s technocrats retain their belief in their expertise and ability to dictate solutions from above, but those interests are less of a technical nature and focused more on socioeconomics or lifestyle.
Recently I’ve been reading Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies, so I’m deep in the roots of technocracy lately. That book presents a case for “dynamism” — the opposite being “stasism” — with “technocrats” and “reactionaries” being the two primary opponents of the dynamist view. Reactionaries want to bring things back to a time “in the old days” when things were better (read: predictable). Technocrats do want progress, but they want it at their own pace, dictated by their control and decisions. But to Postrel’s point, dynamism by definition bucks our attempts to control it directly.
- Science: The Endless Frontier — Vannevar Bush's seminal report.
- Building a State — Anton Howes on the initial developments of state capacity in 16c Britain.