The Rise Of The Technocrats

Via Henry Farrell, an FT piece about the Eurozone that I feel obliged to blog about on grounds of Star Trek analogy:

Apparently, the answer to the huge problems of the eurozone is the replacement of elected premiers with economic experts – approved officials dropped from European institutions. In Greece, Lucas Papademos, a former vice-president of the European Central Bank, has been pushed hard for the job; in Italy, Mario Monti, another economist and a former EU Commissioner, is much mentioned. They may lack a democratic mandate but they’re fantastically well regarded in Frankfurt. It remains to be seen if either will clinch the role. But what exactly is the great attraction of technocrats?

If ever modern Europe needed brave, charismatic leaders to carry their nation through turbulent times, it would seem to be now. Instead, it is as if the crew of the Starship Enterprise had concluded that Captain Jean-Luc Picard is no longer the man for the job and that it is time to send for the Borg. Efficient, calculating machines driving through unpopular measures across the eurozone with the battle cry “resistance is futile” are apparently the order of the day. Faced with a deep crisis, once-proud European nations are essentially preparing to hand over power to Ernst & Young.

I think a closer analogy would be if Starfleet Command decided that Captain Picard was no longer up to the job, so he was going to be replaced by Lieutenant Commander Data (or make it Kirk/Spock if you like). But the causes here aren’t so mysterious to me. Europe would benefit from brave charismatic leadership. But as a second best, cautious uncharismatic leadership is better than chaos and indecision. So who’s going to make the decisions? The European Central Bank is the only institution of European governance that’s set up to make decisions on the behalf of “Europe.” So over time, the ECB is de facto amassing additional powers including the ability to install its choice of prime minister in key countries. The realistic alternative to this would have been for a charismatic German politician to inspire the German publicly with a fiscally costly endeavor to centralize continent-wide political decision making, but you don’t need to do extensive readings in history to see why this isn’t emerging as the solution. We’re either going to get ECB-led governance or else we’re going to get a populist euroskeptic backlash that blows the whole thing up.