Technocrats — Efficiently Wrong?

In a recent post at recent blogrollee Fear and Loathing in Georgetown, FLG thinks about an argument I’ve seen from some of my friends in the sinestrosphere. He quotes Ezra Klein:

A lot of conservatives believe, I think, that their philosophical preference for small government is counterbalanced by other people’s philosophical preference for big government. But that’s not true: Their philosophical preference for small government is counterbalanced by other people’s practical preference for larger government in certain areas where it seems to make sense.

This, FLG suggests, is the mark of the technocrat, who operates from the ideological position that:

claims that empirical data and theories are more important than received and practical wisdom. It claims the superiority of, as the name implies, techne, although I’m loathe to use the word because of its myriad and nuanced understandings. Put simply being a technocrat is to be a type of epistemological ideologue.

But I would contend that in a system with as many variables as human life, we are incapable of a scientific approach to such matters, Hari Seldon notwithstanding. Adam Smith knew this, of course, as did Richard Weaver with his disdain for “social scientists.” Those who would be technocrats strike me as guilty of hubris, claiming scientistic authority while disregarding scientific doctrines of falsifiability.

What the social engineers of the State ask of us would doubtless be efficient, but we should be under no delusion that it would be right or capable of accounting for the uncertainty of life and human nature. In the human sphere, I find myself allied with Burke’s dictum that “Experience is the school of mankind and he will learn at no other.” And “experience, though noon auctoritee were in this world” has taught me that an inefficient evil may well be preferable to an efficient one.

And this brings me to an argument that a friend of mine has made, which is that the GOP isn’t interested in less government as much as they are in bad government. I’m not necessarily willing to concede that, and I further remind you that the Right and the GOP aren’t coterminous, but even if it’s so, I think that if I’m given the choice between inefficient bad government and efficient bad government, I prefer the less efficient model simply because it’s less likely to get around to the things I care about.

And that brings me back to FLG, who has previously said:

Look, I’m not pro-irrationality, anti-empiricism, or hate practicality. Rational, practical, and empirical approaches are extremely useful and should be the starting point. On the other hand, not everything that is important, and many of the most important things, cannot be directly measured. And the full effects of our actions cannot be determined, especially as we increased the scope of our analysis. Therefore, to hold that one side, the other side, is merely ideological, while our side is merely making practical decisions based upon rational looks at the present facts is just too much to stomach.

I agree with that, and that’s why I distrust technocracy, and why I prefer King Log to King Stork.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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4 Responses to Technocrats — Efficiently Wrong?

  1. majormaddog says:

    My short comment has to do with this excerpt, “philosophical preference for small government is counterbalanced by other people’s philosophical preference for big government.” I think it’s probably right on to say that conservatives or Republicans have the goal of smaller government for smaller government’s sake. You guys give very little credit to the good that government can do, so maybe small government for its own sake makes sense in your world view. For me and mine, however, we don’t view big government as the goal. There are certain policy goals that we strive for and it just happens that the best way to implement those goals is with large government involvement – see health care, universal. To say Democrats and liberals want big government is just a political game and pejorative in almost the same sense as when your side says Democrat Party. I’ve decided to add this to my list of “stop the conversation and correct conservatives” things. On the list now are this, Democrat Party and tax cuts raise overall revenues to the government.

  2. Fear and Loathing in Georgetown says:

    majormaddog:

    “There are certain policy goals that we strive for and it just happens that the best way to implement those goals is with large government involvement – see health care, universal. ”

    Ah, but there’s my point. Liberals often view consider their solutions and policy proposals as if they naturally follow from the facts, as if there aren’t values involved. I have a theory that I revisit over and over on my blog about how liberals value the short-term, empirical, and tangible, while conservatives are more focused on the longer term, broader measures than simple empiricism, and less tangible things like incentives. This isn’t to say that the longer-term view is always better, but it seems to play out that way.

    For example:
    If one’s goal is to expand health care to as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time, then socialized, universal health care is the way to go. If, however, your goal is to provide the best health care to as many people as possible over the long-term, and by long-term I mean generations into the future, then it might not be.

  3. Fear and Loathing in Georgetown says:

    Just to be clear, by “it seems to play out that way” I meant that liberals look at narrower, shorter, empirical and tangible, and conservatives value, while not the opposite exactly, other things more.

  4. Pingback: Fair’s Fair… I Guess. | Professor Mondo

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