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Recovering the Promise of Technocracy

SINGAPORE – The prevailing mood nowadays is one of pessimism. After a year in which Donald Trump was elected President of the United States and the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, many are anticipating more populist victories – and damaging policies – in 2017. Add to this slow global economic growth and rising geopolitical tensions, and it is easy to conclude that the world is headed down the same path of nationalism and protectionism that sparked World War I.

But this misses the point. The rise of populism is merely a symptom of political leaders’ failure to address voters’ economic grievances. Instead of obsessing about the degeneration of democracy at the hands of political leaders who cannot fulfill their promises to frustrated voters, we must define a better form of government that can address those grievances. I propose a direct technocracy.

As I explain in my new book Technocracy in America, a direct technocracy would ensure that regular public consultation shapes decision-making by committees of accountable experts. This approach combines the virtues of direct democracy with the benefits of meritocratic technocracy, which leverages data to make long-term, utilitarian decisions. Simply put, a direct technocracy marries good ideas and efficient execution.

This system isn’t entirely hypothetical. Both the hyper-democratic Switzerland and the ultra-technocratic Singapore apply its principles effectively. And their records are impressive: both countries boast good health, ample wealth, low corruption, high employment, national military and civil services, and massive state investment in innovation. They respond efficiently to citizens’ needs and preferences, apply international experience to domestic policymaking, and use data and alternative scenarios for long-term planning.