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How to design a realistically looking technocracy?

I mean that’s a standard problem in even mildly SF setting. It’s quite clear how to make a futuristic republic (assuming that you can hire a few Jedis) or feudalistic monarchy (assuming that you have enough spice and no sand worms eat your cars), just the question is concerning a technocracy. I mean a democracy in future may sound as old fashion as tribal federation in early XXI century. A technocracy - a system that would prefer competency, be efficient but also have its own issues.

So my guesses, maybe I need to adjust something:

  • Universal suffrage replaced by weighted voting, where citizen rank is based on result of some universal test, also to stand for office passing even more tricky test is required

  • Single transferable vote (I like this idea, and when system is heavily aided by computers, then is quite easy)

  • Central bank and central statistical office as another constitutionally protected branches of gov

  • "Right to information" instead of "freedom of speech", gov is obliged to provide with easily accessible source of information including statistical data, a few news station in the style of BBC, etc. (right to lie is actually not protected nor right to organize lavish political campaigns)

  • Gov provides financial reports with the quality of at least public companies financial statement (is your country generating a profit or its equivalent? well, as a citizen may be interested to know...)

  • Constitutional protection requiring balancing budget in long term (including implicit liabilities like pension and healthcare for elderly citizen)

  • Instead of relying heavily on voting / referendum, use focus groups - a group of citizens is selected by random, given data to read and finally asked to answer which policy to select (no answering from gut feeling)

  • Free or heavily subsidised education

  • High level of anti-monopoly regulation and splitting monopolies / too big to fail companies

  • High level of experimentation within system - is a gov owned school better or worse than a private subsidised by educational voucher? Regardless what’s the right answer, such gov would be required to experiment and base final policy on the result. Experiments in this style would be a norm.

  • Gov agencies would bid to provide public services against private companies/NGOs (both for good and bad)

Reasonable? Or I should plan for story purposes such system differently? (the system does not have to be ultra nice, it just has be effective) (no, no communism, it was empirically tested and failed spectacularly)

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    $\begingroup$ Governments, at least the ones that function, do not, and should not, operate like companies, so the financial statements better be different. $\endgroup$ Jan 7, 2022 at 11:53
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    $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison What comes across to me is that they meant it should be clearly and easily understandable by common folks, just as corp report is meant to be understandable by stakeholders? I might be wrong, though. $\endgroup$
    – Nuclear241
    Jan 8, 2022 at 4:54

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I've had serious discussions about technocracy with friends, owing to complaints about the democratic status quo. One simple point a friend made was that government committees and branches must be administered by those who actually have a grasp of the subject matter. Simply require health committees, the health ministry, health minister, for example, to be staffed by former doctors and nurses.

There's two obvious ways of going about this, either have the people vote for cabinet ministers from a list of those with specific experience... which may add a little bit to the paperwork of an election, but will do the job. Or perhaps only allow specialists to vote for their own section of government.

Another way around it is to have a one party state with specific criteria for appointing leaders. For example, the Soviet Union was interesting in that members of the Politburo required an engineering degree. The logic there was that unless someone was trained in how to create and maintain systems they couldn't very well know how to manage a national system like government.

Contemporary Chinese and Indian governments have a strong technocratic edge too, as in both cases administrators are selected from an enormous pool of candidates. This process also exists for promoting member of the Chinese Communist Party on merit from the smallest local administration, step by step, all the way up to the Central Committee.

Another historical example is Fascist Italy. Italian fascist government was based on the principles of corporatism. Importantly this should not be confused with capitalist corporations. The belief the Italian Fascists had was that the state is a superorganism, and the largest corporations are its organs. Instead of representing the people, the aspects of the national body ("corporation" derives from the word corpse/body) must be represented in government. They will then answer to the Fascist party; which, conveniently enough by Fascist logic, was the only organisation strong enough to lead the nation. The corporations weren't there to benefit from it, rather they were there to inform and obey the fascist government. They had to know their place.

That's not to say your system needs to be a copy of Soviet Communism or Italian Fascism, just that these are examples of different technocratic ways of appointing governors to rule the nation. And these ideas can be divorced from the rest of their political ideology, and affixed to whatever social-economic system it is that you wish to be represented.

I don't see why you couldn't take the technocratic Soviet one party leadership system and affix it to a capitalist body... that's kind of what China has been trying to do since Mao's death. Hopefully the examples and ideas presented offer some food for thought!

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  • $\begingroup$ The first point of course raises the question of who decides who is expert. It historically gets circular and then their ignorance proved disastrous. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Jan 7, 2022 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Mary I'd advise looking into Daniel Kahneman's book 'Thinking, Fast and Slow', where he makes a distinction between expert and non-expert intuition. Gist is: if you train under predictable conditions: surgeon, chess player, firefighter, then your experience allows you to intuit factually valid outcomes due to all that training. But if you're training in an environment which has random or opaque outcomes, your intuition won't have value. Appointing people via professionals who can assess objective knowledge has worked fine for various experts for centuries: doctors, artists, tradesmen, etc. $\endgroup$
    – user20787
    Jan 9, 2022 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ It has worked in some respects. There have been many situations where it has been disastrous. This would encourage the disasters. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Jan 10, 2022 at 0:42
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Some things to consider here ...

Progress may be slowed down

  • Those who write the tests both define what their field of knowledge covers and how one advances in it. Once upon a time medical doctors had to be fluent in Latin. Should it remain part of the test? And can you be a technician (in any area) if you do not understand how a slide rule works? Sure, you don't need it day to day, but it demonstrates a sound understanding of the principles.
  • Who decides to introduce a new professional field or to split existing ones? All those new-fangled web designers. Are they painters or telegraph engineers? They'd score low in either profession, so they will not be allowed to rewrite the definitions of their fields.

It would be natural for those who score high under the status quo to resist any change to de-value their skill set or to reduce the scope of their authority.

Who watches the watchers?

  • Do you really want only bankers in the ministries and legislative subcommittees that supervise banking rules? Or should it be lawyers in every legislative committee?
  • Are project management and controlling their own speciality or are they part of almost every field? Does that mean you have to be able to organize a research project (write a budget proposal, pay invoices) before you become a senior researcher?
  • Is the national budget a decision for tax accountants and macroeconomists? Should they decide how much money is set aside for foreign aid, or is that the decision of moral theologians and development specialists?

At senior decisionmaking levels, you need generalists who can reach compromise solutions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Inspired by your idea, I wonder what should be the qualification for ultimate senior level leader. Management, because running a country is managing many departments running at once? Engineering, because a country is a system that has to be maintained and run efficiently? Military, because commander-in-chief? Political science/diplomacy, because politics? Or just pure generalist random folk, to represent the ultimate "average representation of the people"? $\endgroup$
    – Nuclear241
    Jan 8, 2022 at 5:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Nuclear03020704, I don't want average people running my country. That's like asking average people to do heart surgery. You could invent a system where the cabinet gets strengthened vs. the head of government, and the SecDef is the commander in chief. But we're on Worldbuilding, not Politics. Do you want a workable system or may you live in interesting times? $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Jan 8, 2022 at 6:37
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I'd say you need two things:

  1. a pool of people that are highly educated and skilled in administration
  2. general agreement among the rest of the populace that the technocrats are doing a good job; if not, you get revolutions

Look at the educational reforms that Napoleon set up 200+ years ago, and how their effects persist today - France is arguably the most technocratic of the developed Western nations.

He created a national system of secondary schools, with a single curriculum, managed from the top down. He also implemented nationwide civil service exams.

He set up several specialized universities (various branches of engineering, a graduate school of national administration) that still exist today. In a lot of ways, the graduates of the Ecole Polytechnique are a textbook example of the so-called 'deep state'. They bounce back and forth from government to private industry and they are a very tight old boys network.

When things are going well, the technocrats are doing much of the governing of France, regardless of which party holds the presidency or the parliament, and there aren't too many complaints about corruption, a rigged system, or insiders. But when things aren't going well - when that social compact of 'you get to run the country for us, and not incidentally live a very luxurious life in the process, as long as you deliver the goods' isn't holding - that's when you get problems.

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Your proposed system suffers from the same problem as most governing bodies - namely : how do you evaluate it’s performance?

Here are some obvious breakdowns in your system :

  • votes are weighted - what prevents an “emperor” pretender from deciding arbitrarily that his/her opinion is weighted 100% and all other voters 0%?

  • votes can be assigned - what prevents a “kingmaker” from harvesting the proxies of the elderly and the poor?

  • only the “qualified” can hold positions of rank - and what prevents a “dynast” from deciding his/her biological kin are the only qualified individuals in the world?

  • a central bank can report on money supply - what prevents the bank from reporting multiple money supply calculations (M1, M2, M3), changing the accounting method of critical statistic arbitrarily (CPI “basket of goods”) and reporting whatever random numbers that make people feel good about empty shelves?

The point is that its unfeasible to oversee the individuals making the decisions. And your proposed system is especially vulnerable, as it has no co-equal branches of power whereby someone can make an accusation, “I think this thing is wrong,” and have that accusation evaluated and, if agreed to, used to force a correction in the system.

Your proposed system also has no surge protectors to keep a system that is malivesting (say, throwing 100% of the economy behind the monarchs daughters new all toilet paper clothing company, because isn’t she such a darling?). Dunning-Kruger applies. When presented with novel situations, decision-makers will be first convinced in their godlike mastery of the subject matter, and then they will gain rudimentary proficiency over the subject. Even a principled, but inept decision at the top can, in real world terms of blood (going to war) and treasure, do ghastly damage. Some systems severely limit what powers the top-level body has, to a very specifically scoped set, for just this reason; reserving broader power to smaller regions, or explicitly forswearing certain powers (regulating speech or belief). Some of the longest lasting cultures start out as theocracies, where power is distributed broadly to the public who (hopefully) police first themselves, then police their neighbors against a published set of principles.

Next, your proposed system is missing motivation. Why does anyone want to participate?

It may also be important to remember that we humans are built for stupidity - every 30 years the best trained enter senescence. These elders leave the public stage. They are replaced by a new generation that has only been paying attention to adult topics for, maybe, ten years. All hard-won truth older than 10 years becomes something the new generation hears pre-digested, with commentary, and has no alternative but to reject or accept on faith.

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  • $\begingroup$ Agree with your points, may be worth mentioning a notable counter-example or two also. Sir Isaac Newton is the one who springs immediately to mind - brilliant scientist and even hell on counterfeiters when put in charge of the Royal Mint, but a placeholder who only spoke once on a trivial matter while a member of parliament. $\endgroup$ Jan 7, 2022 at 13:44
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It will not work

When someone reaches a high level position be it in power or wealth the natural instinctive tendency is to ensure better conditions for their offspring. Furthermore this is a world where the internal selective pressure is stronger than the external one, I mean that people have to compete more against other people to ensure their future than against the external factors. In this world the tendency to join smaller tight knitted groups and help each other is strong as well.

A real technocratic system, where people rise along the ranks depending solely on talent and knowledge regardless of family status and friendships network, would challenge so much the natural instinctive tendencies that people would quickly find a way to rig it. University grades can be rigged, scientific papers can be plagiarised, merits for good results in some works or studies can be attributed to the wrong people. A lot of these things already happen quite often in the real world. Even in corporate environments that are supposed to be highly meritocratic how often people shine thanks to the work of others?

A system based on static rules and criteria would not be different from the current system based on wealth, eventually a smaller group would accumulate enough power o bend the way the rules are applied.

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  • $\begingroup$ While there is always benefit from rigging any system for yourself and your family... However, as twin studies tend to show huge heritability of IQ (like 80%), actually a person on top of meritocratic hierarchy, has good reasons to expect that his kids are most likely to do moderately well without any rigging, thus gain wouldn't be that much. $\endgroup$
    – Shadow1024
    Nov 29, 2022 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Shadow1024 IQ tests have a flaw. They are influenced by the quality of the education. So much in the period that between the years 1950 and 1980, when there was a major change around the world in education standards, the scale of the IQ tests had to be revised several times. If you claim there is heritability of IQ I guess you are citing studies based in the US where the differences in the education system are a signal of economic apartheid. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Dec 13, 2022 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ Are you trying to explain me Flynn effect? It's only visible on part of subtest and even more importantly - it already mostly stopped in the West. You are repeating a few common misconceptions. For example there is clearly visible Jensen effect - there are indeed clear gains on test score for kids, but the impact actually decreases with age and in early adulthood the plateaus with heritability explaining ~80% and any idenfiable social factors (like education) explaining whopping ~10% with remaining ~10% being not accounted for. $\endgroup$
    – Shadow1024
    Dec 13, 2022 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Shadow1024 LOL You are desperately trying to paint yourself as an expert to deny a very simple fact. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Dec 14, 2022 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ Dude, don't use your ignorance as an argument. As what I say goes against your belief system, just fact check me on google scholar (or even wikipedia) whether heritability is going up or down with age and what are heritability estimates for IQ of an adult. $\endgroup$
    – Shadow1024
    Dec 14, 2022 at 17:53

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