1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Governance (2000 - 2009)

Technocratic Policy Making and Democratization

  • Project from: 2000 to 2003


This project examined the effects of technocratic styles of policy making on democratic institutions, especially in developing and transition societies. Pressure to adopt neoliberal macro-economic policies as countries attract international development finance may encourage governments to insulate key institutions from public scrutiny and grant policy-making powers exclusively to experts. National authorities may become more responsive to financial markets and donor agencies than to their fledgling legislatures and citizens. In addition, welfare policies that are important in alleviating the costs of liberalization, and in helping countries consolidate their democracies, may be treated as residuals of macro-economic policy. Failure to promote genuine social dialogue on issues that affect the lives of most people may encourage non-democratic means of pressing claims and delegitimization of representative institutions.

The project was divided into three research areas: economic policy-making and parliamentary accountability; democratization and social development; and interest groups, policy-making and democratisation. Research was initiated in 2000 in eight countries on the subject of economic policy-making and parliamentary accountability. These countries are Argentina, Benin, Chile, Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Malawi and Republic of Korea. Work on the area of democratization and social development is being developed under the UNRISD project on Social Policy in a Development Context.

The project on economic policy making and parliamentary accountability examines the question of how different types of legislative institutions deal with different types of policy making regimes that are conditioned by different levels of exposure to world markets and the lending programmes of multilateral financial institutions. It assesses how countries have been able to manage the tensions between technocratic styles of governance associated with access to international finance and consolidation of democratic institutions. In democracies, parliaments are expected to provide platforms for articulating citizen choices, scrutinizing government policies, and providing legitimacy to final policy outcomes even if they turn out to be wrong. The core issues of economic policy reform – fiscal stability, debt repayment, privatisation, and liberalisation – often require hard choices as they affect social groups, communities and institutions differently. It is never obvious that there is only one right way of approaching these issues or that technocrats are better placed than anyone else to make the right choices.

Analysis of economic policy-making and parliamentary accountability provides opportunities to understand the inter-connections of economic and social policies, the different weights of these policies in the strategies of governments and parties, the influence of societal or lobbying interests on the making of such policies, and the trade-offs or complementarities between economic and social policies in parliamentary bargaining. Insights into these issues can be gained by focusing on the budget – a major policy statement that informs the public about government spending and tax intensions.

A public conference entitled "What Choices Do Democracies Have in Globalizing Economies?" was held in Geneva from 27 - 28 April 2000. Some of the draft research reports can be viewed by clicking on "Unpublished papers" on the right.

This project began in 2000 and co-ordinated by Yusuf Bangura.