Is Too Much Democracy Leading to Too Little Policy?



Is Government Too Political? A Question of Balance
Foreign Affairs


The author, a former Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors the Federal Reserve System and member of President Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers, argues that the United States' democratic system is subject to too much politics and not enough objective policy deliberation, creating gridlock and poor policy choices.

He argues that the problem with poor policy-making is not an issue of 'big' versus 'small' government, but rather identifying which areas of public policy needed to be quarantined from politicking and political interference and assigned instead to technocrats.

While the author acknowledges that politics can never be separated from policy and political argument, and choice is needed to legitimate policy outcomes, he argues the US Federal Reserve is a positive illustration of important public policy choices – in this case interest rates – being handed to a technocratic organisation to arbitrate.

He argues that determining which policy area should assigned to 'technocracy' should be decided on three key factors:

  • whether the policy question requires technical expertise rather than political value judgements;
  • whether the policy question requires long-term rather than short-term focus which can be captured by political cycles, and;
  • the scope of the policy impact: policy areas like tax that have broad impact on society should be arbitrated by technocrats while those with sectorial or narrow impacts which require political value judgements should be the domain of politicians.

'Such a division of policymaking labor would improve policy design by assigning specific decisions to the persons best equipped to make them', the author states.

Thumbnail image: Phil Roeder/Flickr.

Alan Blinder

Princeton University

Published Date
April 1, 1997