Technocracy under democracy : assessing the political autonomy of experts in Latin America
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The important role that technocrats play in Latin America has stimulated a lively theoretical debate about experts’ influence in policy making and their effective independence from other sociopolitical players, especially politicians, international financial institutions and business. Through an in-depth analysis of the role of economic and health technocrats in Colombia from 1958 to 2011 and in Peru from 1980 to 2011, this dissertation demonstrates that technocrats are best conceptualized as autonomous actors in Latin America. This technical autonomy, though, varies in strength from policy sector to policy sector and even within the same policy sector across time. I propose a theory of technocratic autonomy to explain both the bases of experts’ autonomy and the determinants that explain the variation in the degree of autonomy across policy sectors and across time. Fundamentally, technocrats’ higher degree of expertise provides them with considerable leverage over sociopolitical actors and allows them to enhance their influence. x Four factors explain experts’ degree of autonomy and its variation across policy areas. First, a high level of technical complexity in a policy area enhances autonomy by making it more difficult for politicians to counter technocrats’ proposals. Second, the degree of technocratic consensus in a policy area limits the possibility of experts being replaced by other experts with preferences closer to those of politicians. Third, experts are more likely to gain autonomy in state areas where bad policy performance causes high political costs for the incumbent. Finally, a balanced constellation of diverse powerful stakeholders having interests in a policy area also enhances technical autonomy. These stakeholders monitor competing stakeholders and the incumbent, opening a space for technocrats to act with more autonomy. I argue that these four factors explain why economic experts, in general, are more likely to gain autonomy and entrench it over time, whereas health experts remain more vulnerable. These factors also explain the variation in technocratic autonomy over time within the same policy area.