Technocrat Usage

A Fellow Znetter focused my attention on ‘technocrat’ usage in my previous post. Not exacly the most common word in your conversational vocabulary so I took the opportunity to go back and figure out why my Basic Income explorations made ‘removing welfare from technocratic control’ come to mind as something to reasonably consider as a good thing.  I was using the dictionary definition " a technical expert  ; especially : one exercising managerial authority" that had more of a ‘coordinator class’ nuance as opposed to "an adherent of technocracy." Samuel Falvo II  thought I was disrespecting ‘technocracy’ but I don’t really know enough about it to have much of an opinion yet.

This is the usage of technocrat that I’m used to. The Multinational Monitor from 1999has " Humility and caution are not the strongsuits of the corporate technocracy." And a more recent report uses ‘technocratic’ to show the undemocratic restructuring of Iraq’s Economy.

BearingPoint later received a contract to facilitate "private-sector involvement in strategic sectors." The company was reportedly "assigned" by the U.S. government to help the Iraqi Oil Ministry draft a new oil law. Iraqis have ultimately had less influence over the drafting of their own economic laws than the technocrats at the CPA, U.S. AID and BearingPoint, a situation many believe violates international law on the duty of occupiers.

A leaked memo written on March 26, 2003 by Lord Goldsmith, the British attorney general, apparently warned British Prime Minister Tony Blair that "the imposition of major structural economic reforms would not be authorized by international law." On the U.S. side, General Jay Garner, the first CPA head, says he was sacked a month into the job because he had called for swift and free elections, rejecting proposals to impose a privatization program first.

BearingPoint actually helped AID write the specifications for the contract to design Iraq’s "competitive private sector" — the contract that BearingPoint then went on to administer.

While thinking on ‘technocrat’ David Noble writings came to mind. (not this person who seems to want a unregulated world where people can sell tapeworm heads(?) as diet pills, Albert and Chomksy have great examples of unregulated ‘capitalism’ destroying society to a point where even the rulers have had enough.)

Here’s another use of ‘technocratic’ in the " a technical expert  ; especially : one exercising managerial authority " sense.

Schivone: In 1969, addressing a community of mostly students during a public forum at the steps of MIT, you said: "This particular community is a very relevant one to consider at a place like MIT because, of course, you’re all free to enter this community — in fact, you’re invited and encouraged to enter it. The community of technical intelligentsia, and weapons designers, and counterinsurgency experts, and pragmatic planners of an American empire is one that you have a great deal of inducement to become associated with. The inducements, in fact, are very real; their rewards in power, and affluence, and prestige and authority are quite significant." Let’s start off talking about the significance of these inducements, on both a university and societal level. How crucial is it that students understand the function of this highly technocratic social order of the academic community?

CHOMSKY: How important it is, to an individual, depends on what that individual’s goals in life are. If the goals are to enrich yourself, gain privilege, do technically interesting work — in brief, if the goals are self-satisfaction — then these questions are of no particular relevance. If you care about the consequences of your actions, what’s happening in the world, what the future will be like for your grandchildren and so on, then they’re very crucial. So, it’s a question of what choices people make.

Too tired and busy to type in sections of America By Design I’ve been searching for on-line links to David Noble Material. I keep running into the Multinational Monitor guys, this David-Noble-as-test-case for Chomsky theory of power subservience and rewards is by Russell Mokhiber.

Noble is a historian of corporate control over our lives and institutions — from technology to universities.

Forces of Production (Knopf, 1984), for example, is a detailed history of the automation of the metalworking industry. In that book, Noble shows how technology, in its design and deployment, reflects class and power relations between workers and owners.

Here’s some (very helpful) David Noble quotes from an Anarchist (you’d think from reading the URL) site.

So, unsurprisingly, technology within a hierarchical society will tend to re-enforce hierarchy and domination. Managers/capitalists will select technology that will protect and extend their power (and profits), not weaken it. Thus, while it is often claimed that technology is "neutral" this is not (and can never be) the case. Simply put, "progress" within a hierarchical system will reflect the power structures of that system ("technology is political," to use David Noble’s expression, it does not evolve in isolation from human beings and the social relationships and power structures between them).


Modern industry is set up to ensure that workers do not become "masters" of their work but instead follow the orders of management. The evolution of technology lies in the relations of power within a society. This is because "the viability of a design is not simply a technical or even economic evaluation but rather a political one. A technology is deemed viable if it conforms to the existing relations of power." [David Noble, Progress without People, p. 63]

As David Noble summarises, during the Industrial Revolution "Capital invested in machines that would reinforce the system of domination [in the workplace], and this decision to invest, which might in the long run render the chosen technique economical, was not itself an economical decision but a political one, with cultural sanction." [Op. Cit., p. 6]

I’m getting away from the usage of ‘technocrat’ but this article is great for showing it’s not ‘technology’ that people are afraid off the the political decisions made in selectively developing and implementing technology. Good reasons for this fear/aversion depending on the context. Sorry for any confusion. A democatic technocracy would probably be a good thing but in the meantime Robin Hahnel’s defense of Luddism and ‘Sand in the Wheels’ Attac (Ja attac) people seem to make sense. (A Tobin Tax so money game players on Wall Street can bail themselves out…) Lord Byron liked the Luddites, they’be gotten a bad rap in the meantime, the in between time.

Technology will only be truly our friend once we control it ourselves and modify to reflect human values (this may mean that some forms of technology will have to be written off and replaces by new forms in a free society). Until that happens, most technological processes — regardless of the other advantages they may have — will be used to exploit and control people. Hence French syndicalist Emile Pouget’s argument that the worker "will only respect machinery in the day when it becomes his friend, shortening his work, rather than as today, his enemy, taking away jobs, killing workers." [quoted by David Noble, Op. Cit., p. 15]

While resisting technological "progress" (by means up to and including machine breaking) is essential in the here and now, the issue of technology can only be truly solved when those who use a given technology control its development, introduction and use. Little wonder, therefore, that anarchists consider workers’ self-management as a key means of solving the problems created by technology. Proudhon, for example, argued that the solution to the problems created by the division of labour and technology could only be solved by "association" and "by a broad education, by the obligation of apprenticeship, and by the co-operation of all who take part in the collective work." This would ensure that "the division of labour can no longer be a cause of degradation for the workman [or workwoman]." [The General Idea of the Revolution, p. 223] Only when workers "obtain . . . collective property in capital" and capital (and so technology) is no longer "concentrated in the hands of a separate, exploiting class" will they be able "to smash the tyranny of capital." [Michael Bakunin, The Basic Bakunin, pp. 90-1]

While as far as technology goes, it may not be enough to get rid of the boss, this is a necessary first step in creating a technology which enhances freedom rather than controlling and shaping the worker (or user in general) and enhancing the power and profits of the capitalist. In the words of Cornelius Castoriadais, the "conscious transformation of technology will . . . be a central task of a society of free workers." [Workers’ Councils and the Economics of a Self-Managed Society, p. 13]

I’m just joking around here now with the poem down at the end, a democratized technology would be awesome – maybe that’s what the Luddites were after.

They were opposed not to all machinery but, as one of their letter-writers put it, "machinery hurtful to commonality". They left untouched machinery that did not displace workers or whose owners paid a fair wage or rate.

It was the capitalist ownership and control of the machines which caused human and environmental harm, then and now. Labour-saving machinery would enhance human well-being if human need, rather than profit, were the defining values of society. Above all, the Luddites fought; they did not "withdraw".

Sale argues that technology defines the needs and values of society. Yet technologies such as nuclear power are compatible with capitalism, just as the bicycle or renewable energy systems aren’t, and vice versa for socialism, because these two social systems have radically different values (profit versus human and environmental need) and get the technology that suits them.

The Luddites raised the question not of industrial progress per se but of industrial progress on whose terms. Although they had no power other than that of machine-wrecking and riot, their disciplined organisation and solidarity, and their spirit of struggle, are values we can apply today to continue their fight.

"As the Liberty o’er the sea Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood, So we, boys, we Will die fighting, or live free And down with all kinds but King Ludd!" Lord Byron  From an online version of Rudolph Rocker’s Anarchosyndicalism that I just found. Amazing scribd.

Leave a comment