Balancing the Technocrats

ISTANBUL – A simplistic (actually, naive) view of markets is that they exist almost in a “state of nature,” and that the best of all worlds is one where they are free to operate without government interference. An equally simplistic view of democracy is that it is a political system in which periodic competitive elections give the winner the right to govern without constraint.

The reality is far more complex, of course. Markets can function only within an institutional and legal framework that includes property rights, enforcement of contracts, quality and information controls, and many other rules to govern transactions.

Similarly, while competitive elections are essential to any democratic system, a “winner-take-all” attitude to electoral outcomes, with the victor concentrating power, is incompatible with democracy in the long term. Well-functioning democracies are embedded in complex constitutional and other laws that separate executive, legislative, and judicial power, and that protect freedom of speech, assembly, and peaceful dissent by those who lose elections.

Regulatory institutions – such as bank supervisory agencies and bodies that oversee the telecommunications, food, and energy industries – play a vital role by maintaining the always-delicate balance between “free” markets and the actions of elected governments and legislatures. The central bank is perhaps the most important of these institutions, for it conducts monetary policy (and sometimes serves as the financial-sector regulator).