The Hour of the Technocrats

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.

Papademos has been dealt an even weaker hand. Despite his best efforts to insist on a term longer than three months and the ability to appoint some members of his cabinet as conditions for accepting the premiership, in the end he won neither demand.