From Mario Monti to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, Technocrats Are On the Rise in Global Politics


This past year has shown the true stretch of globalization. When Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia on December 17, 2010, it started a revolution that sent aftershocks around the world, from Egypt to Syria.

When the sub-prime mortgage bubble collapsed in the United States, it too affected much of the world, as we saw during the eerily similar crises that followed around Europe.

Now, the world seeks to contain the European sovereign debt crisis. All over Europe, people are dissatisfied with the multi-party political systems that have been in place since World War II. The current frameworks are too divisive for times of such extreme economic distress, and political vitriol is destructive for the health of any nation, as the United States discovered when an argument over the debt ceiling forced its credit rating down to an “AA+”.

In place of party politicians, so-called “Technocrats” – officials not linked to a career in politics, but rather to expertise in their given academic field – have provided beacons of hope for the European (and thus, the world) economy.

In Italy, Mario Monti is pushing to reign in sovereign debt and make Italy a leaner competitor on the world stage. An economist by trade with experience in the European Unions, Monti has been described as “competent,” and “gifted,” far cries from Italy’s previous PM, Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi, a media magnate with a wild personality and a history of scandals during his time in office, stepped down as economic conditions in Italy worsened.

Last November, Greece saw the appointment of Lucas Papademos as interim Prime Minister. Papademos, with a background in banking and academia, is arguing for cuts to Greece’s pension system, as well as tax and benefit reform.

More and more often, countries are looking for a scientific approach to solving fiscal dilemmas. Two European leaders throughout the current crisis, France and Germany, are working to keep the Eurozone afloat by insisting on tight budgets and lowered deficit spending. Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor and an austere star in the economics world during these past few months, has come out particularly strongly against irresponsible government and tax policies.

Even in the U.S., Republican presidential hopefuls have battled over their respective commands of business knowledge. In the end, it seems as if Mitt Romney – who holds business and law degrees from Harvard University – will be the party’s presumptive nominee to run against Barack Obama in the 2012 general election.

So, why a push towards technocracy? In an economic age in which the complexity of problems is outweighed only by the difficulty of their solutions, leaders with strong academic foundations and little interest in lengthy careers in government offer answers outside of the day-to-day political battles that now seem so petty.

One is reminded of the story of Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who, in a time of war, was called by his fellow citizens to take the role of dictator and save Rome from attack. They found him in his back yard, maintaining his fields. He exchanged his plow for a sword, and led Rome to victory. 16 days after assuming the dictatorship, he returned voluntarily to his farm.

Cincinnatus’ story rings true with many around the world struck with the current sovereign debt crises. Politicians interested in short-term victories and long-term legacies aren’t what Europe is looking for, and the technocratic option has risen to become the most viable one. For now, the deft guidance of expertise will try its best to lead Europe through the storm.

This is a cross-post from the Harvard Political Review