Government by technocrats


I realise it'll not be all that fashionable to say so around here but there is indeed an argument in favour of rule by technocrats. Allow the wise and well informed experts to get on with those difficult things and we can enter the land of milk and honey and the Easter Bunny will frolic in the meadows.

Unfortunately, while it is an argument it's not one that quite works. For what always happens is that the technocrats stop being technocrats. Take this little argument about the way that traffic lights were sequenced.

It was because the Government feared motorists who were travelling smoothly, rather than stopping and starting, would use less fuel and pay less to the Treasury in duty as a result.

Yes, congestion and frustration were deliberately increased so as to make sure that we all paid more tax. So far, so technocratic, for a certain perverted meaning of technocratic of course. But then look at this:

Vanderbilt University economist Kip Viscusi studied the net costs of smoking-related spending and savings and found that for every pack of cigarettes smoked, the country reaps a net cost savings of 32 cents.

"It looks unpleasant or ghoulish to look at the cost savings as well as the cost increases and it's not a good thing that smoking kills people," Viscusi said in an interview. "But if you're going to follow this health-cost train all the way, you have to take into account all the effects, not just the ones you like in terms of getting your bill passed."

So therefore restrictions upon smoking are being opposed by those same technocrats are they? For clearly, if increasing the income and wealth of the State are the way we judge things then more smoking should take place, no?

Ah, but of course, that's not the way it works. Smoking has already been declared to be bad, naughty, (as in how dare you proles do what we technocrats disapprove of) and thus the financial arguments are thrown out of the window.

Now I'm not arguing that the impact upon tax revenues should or should not be used as a measure of the desirability of either smoking or traffic light sequencing. Only that if it is in one case then it should be in the other: both or neither.

And given that this is clearly not the case we can see that the case for technocratic rule fails. For technocrats never remain technocrats, they always fall foul of their own prejudices. And being ruled by the prejudices of others is not what it is all supposed to be about: better, by far, to have the maximal possible amount of liberty and freedom so that we can all run our own lives by the inclinations of our own prejudices rather than those of others.