Voters trust unelected ‘experts’ above politicians.

Since 1945, the United States government has built up an increasingly large network of intelligence agencies, composed of more than a dozen agencies staffed by career military officers.  As we have seen in recent years though a variety of scandals at the CIA, NSA, and the FBI, these technocrats have no qualms about attempting to undermine the elected civilian government in order to assert their own agenda in its place. These bureaucrats at the so-called deep state in many cases regard themselves as unanswerable to the elected government, and even seek to override foreign policy decisions it has made.

Why Elected Politicians Empower Technocrats

In all of these cases, elected officials could intervene to limit the power of the technocrats, yet they choose not to.

In the case of Supreme Court, Congress could limit the jurisdiction of the appellate courts—and thus the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court itself—simply through changes in legislation. Similarly, Congress could abolish or heavily limit the powers of the Federal Reserve. Again Congress chooses not to. And, of course, Congress and the state legislatures could easily intervene to roll back not only the powers of medical technocrats, but the emergency powers of the executive branch itself. Yet this has not happened.

The reason is because politicians like to “outsource” policymaking to unelected technocrats. This makes it easier for elected officials to later claim that they were not responsible for unpopular measures implemented by technocratic institutions. By putting more power in the hands of technocrats, elected politicians can also later claim that they were respecting the “apolitical” nature of these institutions and that they sought to respect the “expertise.” “Don’t blame me,” the politicians will later claim, “I was only trying to respect ‘the science’ or ‘the data’ or ‘the law.'”

Empowering the technocracy is a useful way to spread blame around in Washington, and it’s also a way to, as Orszag suggests, get around legislative institutions that do what they’re supposed to do: prevent government actions when there aren’t enough votes.

But with technocracy, a lack of votes in Congress isn’t a problem: just hand everything over to a dozen technocrats who will decide what to do. It can then all be done outside the public eye, and with the added advantage of being the decision of nonpolitical “experts.”

Unfortunately, this scheme has worked. Voters are inclined to “trust the experts” and polls often show that the public trusts unelected “experts” more than they trust Congress. This is a great victory for the bureaucrats and for those who push for an ever more powerful state.


Contact Ryan McMaken

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for the Mises Wire and Power and Market, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in public policy and international relations from the University of Colorado. He was a housing economist for the State of Colorado. He is the author of Breaking Away: The Case of Secession, Radical Decentralization, and Smaller Polities and Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.