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Technocracy is a proposed system of governance in which decision-makers are selected on the basis of their expertise in a given area of responsibility, particularly with regard to scientific or technical knowledge. This system explicitly contrasts with the notion that elected representatives should be the primary decision-makers in government, [1] though it does not necessarily imply eliminating elected representatives. Leadership skills for decision-makers are selected on the basis of specialized knowledge and performance, rather than political affiliations or parliamentary skills. [2]

Governance comprises all of the processes of governing – whether undertaken by the government of a state, by a market or by a network – over a social system and whether through the laws, norms, power or language of an organized society. It relates to "the processes of interaction and decision-making among the actors involved in a collective problem that lead to the creation, reinforcement, or reproduction of social norms and institutions". In lay terms, it could be described as the political processes that exist in and between formal institutions.

Democracy system of government in which citizens vote directly in or elect representatives to form a governing body, sometimes called "rule of the majority"

Democracy is a form of government in which the people have the authority to choose their governing legislature. Who people are and how authority is shared among them are core issues for democratic development and constitution. Some cornerstones of these issues are freedom of assembly and speech, inclusiveness and equality, membership, voting, right to life and minority rights.


The term technocracy was originally used to advocate the application of the scientific method to solving social problems. Concern could be given to sustainability within the resource base, instead of monetary profitability, so as to ensure continued operation of all social-industrial functions. In its most extreme sense technocracy is an entire government running as a technical or engineering problem and is mostly hypothetical. In more practical use, technocracy is any portion of a bureaucracy that is run by technologists. A government in which elected officials appoint experts and professionals to administer individual government functions and recommend legislation can be considered technocratic. [3] [4] Some uses of the word refer to a form of meritocracy, where the ablest are in charge, ostensibly without the influence of special interest groups. [5] Critics have suggested that a "technocratic divide" challenges more participatory models of democracy, describing these divides as "efficacy gaps that persist between governing bodies employing technocratic principles and members of the general public aiming to contribute to government decision making." [6]

Scientific method Interplay between observation, experiment and theory in science

The scientific method is an empirical method of acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at least the 17th century. It involves careful observation, applying rigorous skepticism about what is observed, given that cognitive assumptions can distort how one interprets the observation. It involves formulating hypotheses, via induction, based on such observations; experimental and measurement-based testing of deductions drawn from the hypotheses; and refinement of the hypotheses based on the experimental findings. These are principles of the scientific method, as distinguished from a definitive series of steps applicable to all scientific enterprises.

In linguistics, a word sense is one of the meanings of a word. Words are in two sets: a large set with multiple meanings and a small set with only one meaning. For example, a dictionary may have over 50 different senses of the word "play", each of these having a different meaning based on the context of the word's usage in a sentence, as follows:

We went to see the playRomeo and Juliet at the theater.

The coach devised a great play that put the visiting team on the defensive.

The children went out to play in the park.

A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, often a state.

History of the term

The term technocracy is derived from the Greek words τέχνη, tekhne meaning skill and κράτος, kratos meaning power, as in governance, or rule. William Henry Smyth, a California engineer, is usually credited with inventing the word technocracy in 1919 to describe "the rule of the people made effective through the agency of their servants, the scientists and engineers", although the word had been used before on several occasions. [5] [7] [8] [9] Smyth used the term Technocracy in his 1919 article "'Technocracy'—Ways and Means to Gain Industrial Democracy," in the journal Industrial Management (57). [10] Smyth's usage referred to Industrial democracy: a movement to integrate workers into decision making through existing firms or revolution. [10]

Industrial democracy is an arrangement which involves workers making decisions, sharing responsibility and authority in the workplace. While in participative management organizational designs workers are listened to and take part in the decision-making process, in organizations employing industrial democracy they also have the final decisive power.

In the 1930s, through the influence of Howard Scott and the technocracy movement he founded, the term technocracy came to mean, 'government by technical decision making', using an energy metric of value. Scott proposed that money be replaced by energy certificates denominated in units such as ergs or joules, equivalent in total amount to an appropriate national net energy budget, and then distributed equally among the North American population, according to resource availability. [11] [1]

Howard Scott American engineer

Howard Scott was an American engineer and founder of the Technocracy movement. He formed the Technical Alliance and Technocracy Incorporated.

Technocracy movement social movement

The technocracy movement is a social and ideological movement which arose in the early 20th century. Technocracy was popular in the United States and Canada for a brief period in the early 1930s, before it was overshadowed by other proposals for dealing with the crisis of the Great Depression. The technocracy movement proposed replacing politicians and businesspeople with scientists and engineers who had the technical expertise to manage the economy.

The erg is a unit of energy equal to 10−7 joules. It originated in the centimetre–gram–second (CGS) system of units. It has the symbol erg. The erg is not an SI unit. Its name is derived from ergon (ἔργον), a Greek word meaning work or task.

There is in common usage found the derivative term technocrat. The word technocrat can refer to someone exercising governmental authority because of their knowledge, [12] or "a member of a powerful technical elite", or "someone who advocates the supremacy of technical experts". [13] [3] [4] McDonnell and Valbruzzi define a prime minister or minister as a technocrat if "at the time of his/her appointment to government, he/she: has never held public office under the banner of a political party; is not a formal member of any party; and is said to possess recognized non-party political expertise which is directly relevant to the role occupied in government". [14] In Russia, the President of Russia has often nominated ministers based on technical expertise from outside political circles, and these have been referred to as "technocrats". [15] [16]

President of Russia head of state of the RSFSR (office established in 1991) and Russia

The President of Russia, officially the President of the Russian Federation, is the head of state of the Russian Federation, as well as the commander-in-chief of the Russian Armed Forces. He holds the highest office in Russia.


Before the term technocracy was coined, technocratic or quasi-technocratic ideas involving governance by technical experts were promoted by various individuals, most notably early socialist theorists such as Henri de Saint-Simon. This was expressed by the belief in state ownership over the economy, with the function of the state being transformed from one of pure philosophical rule over men into a scientific administration of things and a direction of processes of production under scientific management. [17] According to Daniel Bell:

Daniel Bell American sociologist, writer, editor, and professor emeritus at Harvard University

Daniel Bell was an American sociologist, writer, editor, and professor at Harvard University, best known for his contributions to the study of post-industrialism. He has been described as "one of the leading American intellectuals of the postwar era." His three best known works are The End of Ideology, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism.

"St. Simon's vision of industrial society, a vision of pure technocracy, was a system of planning and rational order in which society would specify its needs and organize the factors of production to achieve them." [18]

Citing the ideas of St. Simon, Bell comes to the conclusion that the "administration of things" by rational judgement is the hallmark of technocracy. [18]

Alexander Bogdanov, a Russian scientist and social theorist, also anticipated a conception of technocratic process. Both Bogdanov’s fiction and his political writings, which were highly influential, suggest that he expected a coming revolution against capitalism to lead to a technocratic society. [19]

From 1913 until 1922, Bogdanov immersed himself in the writing of a lengthy philosophical treatise of original ideas, Tectology: Universal Organization Science. Tectology anticipated many basic ideas of systems analysis, later explored by cybernetics. In Tectology, Bogdanov proposed to unify all social, biological, and physical sciences by considering them as systems of relationships and by seeking the organizational principles that underlie all systems.

Arguably, the Platonic idea of philosopher-kings represents a sort of technocracy in which the state is run by those with specialist knowledge, in this case, knowledge of the Good, rather than scientific knowledge.[ citation needed ] The Platonic claim is that those who best understand goodness should be empowered to lead the state, as they would lead it toward the path of happiness. Whilst knowledge of the Good is different from knowledge of science, rulers are here appointed based on a certain grasp of technical skill, rather than democratic mandate.


Technocrats are individuals with technical training and occupations who perceive many important societal problems as being solvable, often while proposing technology-focused solutions. The administrative scientist Gunnar K. A. Njalsson theorizes that technocrats are primarily driven by their cognitive "problem-solution mindsets" and only in part by particular occupational group interests. Their activities and the increasing success of their ideas are thought to be a crucial factor behind the modern spread of technology and the largely ideological concept of the "information society". Technocrats may be distinguished from "econocrats" and "bureaucrats" whose problem-solution mindsets differ from those of the technocrats. [20]


In 2013, a European Union library briefing on its legislative structure referred to the Commission as a "technocratic authority", holding "legislative monopoly" over the EU lawmaking process despite being unelected. [21] The briefing suggests that this system, which relegates the European Parliament to a vetoing and amending body, was "originally rooted in the mistrust of the political process in post-war Europe." This system is unique, since the Commission's sole right of legislative initiative is a power usually associated with Parliaments.

The former government of the Soviet Union has been referred to as a technocracy. [22] Soviet leaders like Leonid Brezhnev often had a technical background in education; in 1986, 89% of Politburo members were engineers. [23]

Leaders of the Communist Party of China used to be mostly professional engineers. As a result of surveying the mayor and governor of a city with a population of 1 million or more in China, more than 80% often had a technical background in education. [24] [25] The Five-year plans of the People's Republic of China have enabled them to plan ahead in a technocratic fashion to build projects such as the National Trunk Highway System, the China high-speed rail system, and the Three Gorges Dam. [26] However under Xi Jinping, engineers have been mostly replaced by political experts, economists and theorists; Xi himself is the only one to have an engineering degree in the current Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China. [27] [28]

Several governments in European parliamentary democracies have been labeled 'technocratic' based on the participation of unelected experts ('technocrats') in prominent positions. [3] Since the 1990s, Italy has had several such governments (in Italian, governo tecnico) in times of economic or political crisis, [29] [30] including the formation in which economist Mario Monti presided over a cabinet of unelected professionals. [31] [32] The term 'technocratic' has been applied to governments where a cabinet of elected professional politicians is led by an unelected prime minister, such as in the cases of the 2011-2012 Greek government led by economist Lucas Papademos, and the Czech Republic's 2009–2010 caretaker government presided over by the state's chief statistician, Jan Fischer. [4] [33] In December 2013, in the framework of the national dialogue facilitated by Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, political parties in Tunisia agreed to install a technocratic government led by Mehdi Jomaa. [34]

In the article "Technocrats: Minds Like Machines", [4] it is stated that Singapore is perhaps the best advertisement for technocracy: the political and expert components of the governing system there seem to have merged completely. This was underlined in a 1993 article in "Wired" by Sandy Sandfort, [35] where he describes the information technology system of the island even at that early date making it effectively intelligent.


Following Samuel Haber, [36] Donald Stabile argues that engineers were faced with a conflict between physical efficiency and cost efficiency in the new corporate capitalist enterprises of the late nineteenth century United States. The profit-conscious, non-technical managers of firms where the engineers work, because of their perceptions of market demand, often impose limits on the projects that engineers desire to undertake.

The prices of all inputs vary with market forces thereby upsetting the engineer's careful calculations. As a result, the engineer loses control over projects and must continually revise plans. To keep control over projects the engineer must attempt to exert control over these outside variables and transform them into constant factors. [37]

Technocracy movement

The American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen was an early advocate of technocracy, and was involved in the Technical Alliance as was Howard Scott and M. King Hubbert (who later developed the theory of peak oil). Veblen believed that technological developments would eventually lead toward a socialistic organization of economic affairs. Veblen saw socialism as one intermediate phase in an ongoing evolutionary process in society that would be brought about by the natural decay of the business enterprise system and by the inventiveness of engineers. [38] Daniel Bell sees an affinity between Veblen and the Technocracy movement. [39]

In 1932, Howard Scott and Marion King Hubbert founded Technocracy Incorporated, and proposed that money be replaced by energy certificates. The group argued that apolitical, rational engineers should be vested with authority to guide an economy into a thermodynamically balanced load of production and consumption, thereby doing away with unemployment and debt. [1]

The technocracy movement was highly popular in the USA for a brief period in the early 1930s, during the Great Depression. By the mid-1930s, interest in the movement was declining. Some historians have attributed the decline of the technocracy movement to the rise of Roosevelt's New Deal. [40] [41]

Historian William E. Akin rejects the conclusion that technocracy ideas declined because of the attractiveness of Roosevelt and the New Deal. Instead Akin argues that the movement declined in the mid-1930s as a result of the technocrats' failure to devise a 'viable political theory for achieving change'. [42] Akin postulates that many technocrats remained vocal and dissatisfied and often sympathetic to anti-New Deal third party efforts. [43]


Critics have suggested that a "technocratic divide" exists between a governing body controlled to varying extents by technocrats, and members of the general public. [6] Said another way, technocratic divides are "efficacy gaps that persist between governing bodies employing technocratic principles and members of the general public aiming to contribute to government decision making." [6] The central challenge raised by these divides is that technocrats provide privilege to the opinions and viewpoints of technical experts, while marginalizing the opinions and viewpoints of the general public. [44] [45]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Thorstein Veblen American academic

Thorstein Veblen was a American economist and sociologist, who during his lifetime emerged as a well-known critic of capitalism.

Henri de Saint-Simon French early socialist theorist

Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon, often referred to as Henri de Saint-Simon, was a French political and economic theorist and businessman whose thought played a substantial role in influencing politics, economics, sociology, and the philosophy of science.

Post-industrial society societies whose service sector provides more economic value than manufcaturing

In sociology, the post-industrial society is the stage of society's development when the service sector generates more wealth than the manufacturing sector of the economy.

<i>The Theory of the Leisure Class</i> book by Thorstein Veblen

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Institutional economics focuses on understanding the role of the evolutionary process and the role of institutions in shaping economic behaviour. Its original focus lay in Thorstein Veblen's instinct-oriented dichotomy between technology on the one side and the "ceremonial" sphere of society on the other. Its name and core elements trace back to a 1919 American Economic Review article by Walton H. Hamilton. Institutional economics emphasizes a broader study of institutions and views markets as a result of the complex interaction of these various institutions. The earlier tradition continues today as a leading heterodox approach to economics.

Neosocialism was the name of a political faction that existed in France during the 1930s and in Belgium around the same time and which included several revisionist tendencies in the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO). During the 1930s the faction gradually distanced itself from revolutionary Marxism and reformist socialism, while stopping short of merging into traditional class-collaborative socialism of radical-socialist progressivism; instead they advocated a revolution from above which they termed as a constructive revolution. In France this brought them into conflict with the Socialist Party's traditional policy of anti-governmentalism, and the neosocialists were expelled from SFIO.


Tektology is a term used by Alexander Bogdanov to describe a discipline that consisted of unifying all social, biological and physical sciences by considering them as systems of relationships and by seeking the organizational principles that underlie all systems. Tectology is now regarded as a precursor of systems theory and related aspects of synergetics. The word "tectology" was developed by Ernst Haeckel, but Bogdanov used it for a different purpose.

In economics, a price system is a component of any economic system that uses prices expressed in any form of money for the valuation and distribution of goods and services and the factors of production. Except for possible remote and primitive communities, all modern societies use price systems to allocate resources, although price systems are not used exclusively for all resource allocation decisions.

Economic planning is a mechanism for the allocation of resources between and within organizations which is held in contrast to the market mechanism. As an allocation mechanism for socialism, economic planning replaces factor markets with a direct allocation of resources within a single or interconnected group of socially owned organizations.

In political science and sociology, elite theory is a theory of the state that seeks to describe and explain power relationships in contemporary society. The theory posits that a small minority, consisting of members of the economic elite and policy-planning networks, holds the most power—and that this power is independent of democratic elections. Through positions in corporations or on corporate boards, and influence over policy-planning networks through financial support of foundations or positions with think tanks or policy-discussion groups, members of the "elite" exert significant power over corporate and government decisions. The basic characteristics of this theory are that power is concentrated, the elites are unified, the non-elites are diverse and powerless, elites' interests are unified due to common backgrounds and positions and the defining characteristic of power is institutional position.

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Technical Alliance

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