China’s rampant rise into a global economic powerhouse has over the last couple of decades increasingly challenged the ability of the free world to compete while still adhering to democratic principles.
After all, China gets things done autocratically. It can level a village and build an electricity station if its technocratic leaders deem it good for the economic plan, for instance. Such unequivocal development challenges the economy of a democracy that spends more time and money debating its decisions.
So when Italy began installing an unelected technocratic government to replace its ridiculed - but elected - prime minister Silvio Berlusconi over the weekend, one had to wonder: Is this the start of the slippery slope away from the West’s democratic ideals?
As has been widely reported, Italy’s ceremonial head of state, president Giorgio Napolitano on Sunday appointed an economist, Mario Monti, as the new prime minister to lead a technocratic government that will help pull Italy back from financial ruin.
Monti is now selecting a cabinet of fellow technocrats. A technocracy, as defined by the Oxford American dictionary, is a “government by technical experts, as scientists, engineers, etc.”
Sounds like China. Europe has so far failed to convince China to contribute to a bailout fund for financially troubled European nations. In the absence of those funds, one might say that countries like Italy and Greece are veering towards a more Chinese style of government - like Italy, Greece has also dumped its prime minister in favor of technocratic leaders.
Italy and Greece and thus the West are starting to validate the Chinese system. Chalk that up as a victory for China. Who knows, China might even decide to contribute to what Europe hopes becomes a €1 trillion ($1.4 trillion) bailout fund if Beijing sees governing styles that it recognizes as potentially more decisive than wishy-washy democracy.
Of course, Italy is not exactly China. Relatively speaking, Italy has a democratic tradition. And it is not a one-party state as is the giant from the East. In fact, Berlusconi’s own party agreed to support the technocracy under the condition that Italy holds elections again once the new government passes economic measures. Another party, the conservative Northern League, has so far withheld its support – not that it’s mattered.
And Mario Monti himself has “people” cred from his days as EU commissioner for competition from 1999-2004. He earned the nickname Super Mario for helping to axe a merger between General Electric and Honeywell, and for defeating Microsoft on anti-competition allegations.
A technocracy should help Italy recover at the moment, just as it should help Greece.
But anyone who favors a world run by freely elected leaders should watch with trepidation to see how long Italy’s interim technocracy lasts.
Photo: European School of Management and Technology via Wikimedia