Technocracy rules OK

Re my post on State Secretary Raimo Sailas of the Ministry of Finance, Aapo offers some thoughts on the influence of non-elected officials and other experts:

I'd like to make you think what problems this kind of approach - that the truth is heard from bureaucratic mouths - to societal challenges may involve. Sailas is certainly not the only civil servant who has taken role in defining what Finland should do. [...]

You never hear those openers from democratically elected leaders; they're always from professors or officials, and when the politicians finally comment their ideas, they awkwardly mumble something like how "this must be taken into consideration" but will forget it by the next campaign, where they will be once again making promises which they know they won't be able to deliver. We can of course introduce changes and reform the system by this technocratic tactic as well, but, if thinking about how sustainable it is in the long run, I find it nonetheless very worrying. There are reforms but there's no social contract behind them - which means paving the way to populists.
I'm at least as pessimistic about the nature of electioneering politicians, but somewhat more optimistic about the current system. Politicians promising what they can't deliver without going into debt is a universal phenomenon, as far as I know, and it's a positive thing to have someone who can influence our elected representatives to scale down their election promises. In practice they won't entirely abandon the costly policies on which they campaigned; they'll just scale them down to moderate the costs. For example, the inheritance tax won't be eliminated as many Coalitionists wanted, but the amount of tax-free inheritance may still rise. The food VAT won't be cut as much as the Centre proposed, but a smaller reduction may be on the cards.

As for the danger from populists, Finland's electoral history suggests that the dangerous kind won't get anywhere near power unless the economy is in serious doldrums for an extended time. The early 1990s recession was rather severe, but the protest vote in the next parliamentary election went to the Social Democrats and Paavo Lipponen, an establishment figure from the right wing of a centre-left party. I think the status quo is pretty darn sturdy as of now and can easily withstand the Centre not cutting the food VAT as much as it promised or the Coalition not getting its way on inheritance tax.


Aapo said...

I admit that I may contradict myself quite a bit by bashing the current system for something that I've previously praised it for, especially vis-a-vis some other European countries - incrementalism, consensus-building and all that - yet with this issue I can't help thinking how it will be in the near future.

This will be the last 'normal' mandate for governing, at least for the time being. When the next general election is at the door, the candidates - given that they're sane - really, seriously, can't afford any promises. It'll be merely about painful trade-offs, at the very best.

I'm not too convinced that the midset of the electorate will keep up with these changing imperatives, and it is for this reason why I also feel pessimistic of our leaders failing to talk straight. There will possibly be much bigger a case for populist entrants in 2011, let alone 2015.

I'm badly repeating myself with demographics, but I do have this feeling that (also) our political culture is starting to be out of the date, and increasingly so. This is a small piece about how one of my favourite thinkers saw it. Peter Drucker was seldom wrong.

Ari said...

Thanks for sharing the link. That was an interesting post.

One can already tell that the influence of old people is on the rise, but I detect fairly little in the way of generational conflict as of now. I mean, there was that one book, but that's about it.

Aapo said...

They aren't generally perceived as generational conflicts, but the two-tier labour market and our recent pension reform (which was largely a new-entrant reform) are telling examples.

Then think about an issue like the new copyright law; had been hardly possible if there would have been more parliamentarists, who have actually downloaded and played MP3 files in their life, in Eduskunta.

And the main point anyway is that a falling participation rate does mean a stalling economy, which then brings its own straighjacket and trade-offs. And as for those, don't except babyboomers to vote against their own interests.

Ari said...

I think that for the functioning of a political system, it's important how conflicts are perceived. That is, the existence of a generational opinion gap doesn't necessarily in itself have an impact. Finland's political system has been built around ideological, vocational, and regional conflicts, so the emergence of age as another important divider could plausibly affect its stability. But people act (and voters vote) based on their perceptions, so I would argue the perception of generational conflict is needed for change in that direction to occur.