Technocracy is an ideological system of governance in which a decision-maker or makers are elected by the population or appointed on the basis of their expertise in a given area of responsibility, particularly with regard to scientific or technical knowledge. This system explicitly contrasts with Representative Democracy, the notion that elected representatives should be the primary decision-makers in government, though it does not necessarily imply eliminating elected representatives. Leadership skills for decision-makers are selected on the basis of specialized knowledge and performance, rather than political affiliations or parliamentary skills.
The term technocracy was originally used to advocate the application of the scientific method to solving social problems. Concern could be given to sustainability within the resource base, instead of monetary profitability, so as to ensure continued operation of all social-industrial functions. In its most extreme sense technocracy is an entire government running as a technical or engineering problem and is mostly hypothetical. In more practical use, technocracy is any portion of a bureaucracy that is run by technologists. A government in which elected officials appoint experts and professionals to administer individual government functions and recommend legislation can be considered technocratic.
The term technocracy is derived from the Greek words τέχνη, tekhne meaning skill and κράτος, kratos meaning power, as in governance, or rule. William Henry Smyth, a California engineer, is usually credited with inventing the word technocracy in 1919 to describe "the rule of the people made effective through the agency of their servants, the scientists and engineers", although the word had been used before on several occasions. Smyth used the term Technocracy in his 1919 article "'Technocracy'—Ways and Means to Gain Industrial Democracy", in the journal Industrial Management . Smyth's usage referred to Industrial democracy: a movement to integrate workers into decision making through existing firms or revolution.
There is in common usage found the derivative term technocrat. The word technocrat can refer to someone exercising governmental authority because of their knowledge, or "a member of a powerful technical elite", or "someone who advocates the supremacy of technical experts". McDonnell and Valbruzzi define a prime minister or minister as a technocrat if "at the time of his/her appointment to government, he/she: has never held public office under the banner of a political party; is not a formal member of any party; and is said to possess recognized non-party political expertise which is directly relevant to the role occupied in government". In Russia, the President of Russia has often nominated ministers based on technical expertise from outside political circles, and these have been referred to as "technocrats".
The American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen was an early advocate of technocracy, and was involved in the Technical Alliance as was Howard Scott and M. King Hubbert (who later developed the theory of peak oil). Veblen believed that technological developments would eventually lead toward a socialistic organization of economic affairs. Veblen saw socialism as one intermediate phase in an ongoing evolutionary process in society that would be brought about by the natural decay of the business enterprise system and by the inventiveness of engineers. Daniel Bell sees an affinity between Veblen and the Technocracy movement.
In 1932, Howard Scott and Marion King Hubbert founded Technocracy Incorporated, and proposed that money be replaced by energy certificates. The group argued that apolitical, rational engineers should be vested with authority to guide an economy into a thermo-dynamically balanced load of production and consumption, thereby doing away with unemployment and debt.
The technocracy movement was highly popular in the USA for a brief period in the early 1930s, during the Great Depression. By the mid-1930s, interest in the movement was declining. Some historians have attributed the decline of the technocracy movement to the rise of Roosevelt's New Deal.
Historian William E. Akin rejects the conclusion that technocracy ideas declined because of the attractiveness of Roosevelt and the New Deal. Instead Akin argues that the movement declined in the mid-1930s as a result of the technocrats' failure to devise a 'viable political theory for achieving change'. Akin postulates that many technocrats remained vocal and dissatisfied and often sympathetic to anti-New Deal third party efforts.