Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This article pertains to a technocracy as a bureaucratic structure. For other uses of the term, see Technocrat (disambiguation).
Technocracy is an organizational system in which decision makers are selected on the basis of technological knowledge, often because of some conflict or competition where technological escalation is a constant feature. Often, technocracy is thought as rule by scientist and engineers, or bringing these groups into power, and this is a derogatory definition elaborating on this.
The term was coined in 1919 by American engineer W.H. Smith. It came into common usage through management theorist James Burnham's 1941 work Managerial Revolution. The term became widely used to describe politics and now generally refers to an elite who governs through use of technology/technological prowess. The situation usually described is one in which the elite are selected through bureaucratic processes on the basis of specialized knowledge rather than through democratic or other processes. The term may be either positive or negative.
Criticism of Technocracy
One essential criticism of technocracy is that many governmental decisions are not technical, but political in essence. A technical decision is one that may be reached through know-how, expertise and experience, using rational arguments. A political decision is one that reflects some subjective choices, for instance regarding human values, or some choice regarding some very uncertain future.
For instance, a technocrat may follow neoclassical economics and decide that some factory is not economically efficient and thus that it should be closed. Still, closing this factory will result in a local social disaster, with many people forced out of jobs and the usual consequences. A political decision will have to take human distress into account.
Also, technocrats may focus on their particular area of expertise, whereas many governmental decisions have to approach matters from different points of views. An environment technocrat may seek to limit pollutants, while one overseeing industry may seek fewer restrictions on pollutant emissions. The problem is that each technocrat seeks to optimize efficiency in his particular field of expertise. Political arbitration then has to be brought in.
Finally, technocracy lacks popular sovereignty. Democratic governments govern in the name of the people, and the people may influence their decisions. Technocracy in its purest form is a variant on the old theme of oligarchy. Even without the assumption that popular sovereignty is good, technocracy, like all oligarchies, has tendencies to derive into a self-promoting regime that disregards the objectives that it was supposed to seek.
Technocracy and democracy
It has been argued that a constant progression to a more technocratic society is inevitable as many issues have become too complex for most people to easily grasp. Thus, as a theory of civics, it may be that technocracy opposes democracy, which has as a basic assumption that almost no issues are in fact too complex for most people to grasp.
A variant of technocracy is anticipatory democracy which relies on prediction markets and other such somewhat inclusive means to find the most accurate predictors of scientific and technological trends.
System of governance
Technocracy can also refer to a system of governance in which laws are enforced by designing the system such that it is impossible to break them. For instance, to prevent people from riding the trolley without paying, you could simply design the trolley cars so that no one can hop on without first inserting payment into a slot which causes the door to open.
The same idea can be applied on much larger scales, with automated public surveillance by semi-intelligent systems that automatically control or limit the actions of individuals to prevent illegal activity. This is called the carceral state, in which the whole state is effectively a prison with strict rules - and all individuals are supervised to ensure compliance.
The principles of anticipatory design , wayfinding , and B. F. Skinner's vision Walden Two, to some degree echo this potential, but relying on psychology and conditioning exclusively, and not on any intrusive technology to enforce the rules.
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