The Hour of the Technocrats

Greece and Italy, desperate after their gridlocked political systems left them mired in debt and crisis, have both chosen technocratic economists rather than politicians to lead new governments. It is not a lack of political ability that will stymie them, but rather a lack of political power.

CAMBRIDGE – Greece and Italy, desperate after their gridlocked political systems left them mired in debt and crisis, have both chosen technocratic economists – Lucas Papademos and Mario Monti, respectively – rather than politicians to lead new governments. Both can be described as professors: Monti has been president of Milan’s Bocconi University as well as a European Commissioner, and Papademos has been my colleague at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in the year since he finished his term as Deputy Governor of the European Central Bank.

Not long from now, both men will most likely provoke headlines such as the following: “Professors Earn ‘A’ in Economics, but Flunk Politics.” That will be unfair. It is not a lack of political ability which will stymie them, but rather a lack of political power.

Monti, despite strong popular support for his technocratic government, does not have a parliamentary majority upon which he can rely. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has made it clear that he will not set aside his personal political interests for the good of the country.

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