Just because someone is smart, or has impressive credentials, doesn’t mean he or she is always right. People should be far more skeptical of expert proclamations. From Lipton Matthews at mises.org:
It has now become commonplace to accuse anyone who opposes covid lockdowns of being “antiscience.” This sort of treatment persists even when published scientific studies suggest the usual prolockdown narrative is wrong. support the antilockdown position.
There are sociological, economic, and cultural reasons why experts will take the politically popular position, even when the actual scientific evidence is weak or nonexistent.
Experts Are Biased and Are Self-Interested like Everyone Else
Though we are often encouraged to listen to experts because of their intelligence and expertise, there is a strong case for us to be skeptical of their pronouncements.
Beliefs serve a social function by indicating one’s position in society. Hence to preserve their status in elite circles, highly educated experts may subscribe to incorrect positions, since doing do so can confer benefits. Refusing to hold a politically popular viewpoint could damage one’s career. And since upper-class professionals are more invested in acquiring status than working people, we should not expect them to jettison incorrect beliefs in the name of pursuing truth. Cancel culture has taught us that promoting the world view of the elite is more important than truth to decision makers.
So why should we listen to experts when they give greater primacy to appeasing elites than solving national problems? In contrast to what some would want you to believe—revolting against experts is not an attack on science, considering that little evidence suggests that they care about scientific truth. Let us not fool ourselves. People occupying powerful offices are uninterested in being toppled from positions of influence, and as such, they will seek to minimize views that threaten their professional or intellectual authority. As a result, expecting influential bureaucrats to value truth is unwise. Truth to a bureaucrat is merely the consensus of the intelligentsia at any given time.
Trust the science, trust the experts. Yeah, right. From Reichard White at lewrockwell.com:
OK, I’m going to give away this whole piece with the first quotes. Can you figure out where I’m going with ’em – – –
Athens distributed its most responsible public positions by lottery: army generalships, water supply, everything. …Professionals existed but did not make key decisions; they were only technicians, never well regarded because prevailing opinion held that technicians had enslaved their own minds. –The Way It Used To Be by John Taylor Gatto
Some First Nation folks have a related outlook which clarifies things – – –
My own tradition disbelieves in “experts.” “That which enables, disables also” means that a physicist will fail in understanding in many other areas, precisely because of the amount of time she/he spends on physics and therefore not on other things. Such people are not considered “experts,” but “those extensively informed on part of the whole“. –A NATIVE AMERICAN WORLDVIEW, by Paula Underwood Spencer
And a practical application – – –
“…everything is too important ever to be entrusted to professional experts, because every organization of such professionals and every established social organization becomes a vested-interest institution more concerned with its efforts to maintain itself or advance its own interests than to achieve the purpose that society expects it to achieve.” –Carroll Quigley, ex-president William Jefferson Clinton’s mentor
The experts, expert though they may be, simply cannot centralize decision making and come up with better outcomes than individuals making the best decisions for themselves. From Kevin Duffy at lewrockwell.com:
In order to navigate an impossibly complex world, we take shortcuts, build logical frameworks and adopt ideologies. These are lenses through which we view events, our own reality in a sense. Over time, these lenses become hardened and extremely difficult to change, regardless of the counter evidence.
There are essentially two views of the world: order and chaos. Some see a natural order: the food chain, pecking orders, innate behaviors, complex adaptive systems, natural selection. Others see chaos requiring direction by a group of experts.
At least when it comes to economic activity, the overwhelming majority adopt the chaos view. They fail to grasp Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of mutually beneficial trade, Friedrich Hayek’s “pretense of knowledge” with regard to central planners, or Frederic Bastiat’s “seen and unseen costs” concerning the unintended consequences of economic policies.
Interventionists dread uncertainty; above all, they fear losing control.
What happens when the experts’ and the government officials’ models are wrong? From the Zman at theburningplatform.com:
A suddenly popular hobby for the statistically minded is the modeling of the coronavirus pandemic that threatens to sweep the West. The statistician to the stars, William M. Briggs, has been modeling things like the utility of testing. Steve Sailer has been promoting a person blogging under the name “Arguably Wrong”, who has been modeling the cost of different containment strategies. Of course, the CDC is taking this opportunity to whip up a panic with their models.
The right word is panic, as we have hoarding of useless supplies like toilet tissue and bottled water. Starting this weekend, tens of millions of America will be sheltering in place and self-isolating over fears of the plague. Schools are closing and will remain closed for six weeks. Entertainment like sporting events and public gatherings has been canceled indefinitely. America is about to go into an unprecedented shut down of the economy and civic life based on what couldhappen.
That is a very important variable. The numbers thus far are trivial, in terms of infections and deaths from this virus. Italy has the highest per capita infection rate. That infection rate for Italy in the chart below means there are currently twice as many dwarfs in Italy as there are virus victims. In the United States, almost as many people have been struck by lightning this year as have contracted the virus. More people have committed suicide this year in China than have died from this virus.
It is amazing how quickly so many people become “experts.” From Allan Stevo at lewrockwell.com:
In 2008, I ran for federal office in Illinois. I had the opportunity of spending every day speaking to voters.
It was an affluent and well-educated district, the most affluent and well-educated in all of Illinois.
Favorite places to campaign in the mornings were the commuter rail stations. Everyone there had a minute or two to spare as they waited for the train.
I observed a phenomenon that I wouldn’t have believed had I not observed it.
Every day of the week, including Thursday mornings, I would hear what was on the minds of the people I saw. By Thursday night, the weekend news cycle would start. A story would break, an idea would get disseminated. Friday, it would catch on a little more. Saturday and Sunday, it would be all over the networks. And by Monday, people would be radical and opinionated supporters of some idea that they literally didn’t know a thing about four days earlier.
Nothing will raise your standing in Washington, academia, and the mainstream media as much as consistently being wrong. From Tucker Carlson at theamericanconservative.com:
Pundits like Max Boot and Bill Kristol got everything after 9/11 wrong but are still considered “experts.”
Max Boot (Credit: U.S. Navy) and Bill Kristol (Credit: Gage Skidmore)
One thing that every late-stage ruling class has in common is a high tolerance for mediocrity. Standards decline, the edges fray, but nobody in charge seems to notice. They’re happy in their sinecures and getting richer. In a culture like this, there’s no penalty for being wrong. The talentless prosper, rising inexorably toward positions of greater power, and breaking things along the way. It happened to the Ottomans. Max Boot is living proof that it’s happening in America.
Boot is a professional foreign policy expert, a job category that doesn’t exist outside of a select number of cities. Boot has degrees from Berkeley and Yale, and is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He has written a number of books and countless newspaper columns on foreign affairs and military history. The International Institute for Strategic Studies, an influential British think tank, describes Boot as one of the “world’s leading authorities on armed conflict.”
None of this, it turns out, means anything. The professional requirements for being one ofthe world’s Leading Authorities on Armed Conflict do not include relevant experience with armed conflict. Leading authorities on the subject don’t need a track record of wise assessments or accurate predictions. All that’s required are the circular recommendations of fellow credential holders. If other Leading Authorities on Armed Conflict induct you into their ranks, you’re in. That’s good news for Max Boot.
Politically motivated “experts” are often wrong because their predictions are a product of their ideology. From the Zman at theburningplatform.com:
A few years ago Greg Cochran pointed out that western economists had been very wrong about the economic condition of the Soviet block countries. Paul Krugman had claimed that the East German economy was 80% of the West German economy. When the wall fell, what was revealed was a backward economy with environmental devastation and low quality consumer goods. All of this was obvious from the outside. All you had to do was take a look at the cars, which were a joke compared to the cheapest western cars.
The reason western economists were so laughably wrong about the Soviet economy is that it was worth their while to be wrong. The Left side of the ruling class wanted to believe the commies were doing well. They owned the media and the academy, so it is not hard to figure out the rest. That, of course, calls into the question the integrity of the field, but in reality they just believed what was convenient. Even PhD’s can delude themselves if it has social value. You see that in this post by celebrity economist Tyler Cowen.
Will Ethiopia become “the China of Africa”? The question often comes up in an economic context: Ethiopia’s growth rate is expected to be 8.5 percent this year, topping China’s projected 6.5 percent. Over the past decade, Ethiopia has averaged about 10 percent growth. Behind those flashy numbers, however, is an undervalued common feature: Both countries feel secure about their pasts and have a definite vision for their futures. Both countries believe that they are destined to be great.
Consider China first. The nation-state, as we know it today, has existed for several thousand years with some form of basic continuity. Most Chinese identify with the historical kingdoms and dynasties they study in school, and the tomb of Confucius in Qufu is a leading tourist attraction. Visitors go there to pay homage to a founder of the China they know.
This early history meant China was well-positioned to quickly build a modern and effective nation-state, once the introduction of post-Mao reforms boosted gross domestic product. That led to rapid gains in infrastructure and education, and paved the way for China to become one of the world’s two biggest economies. Along the way, the Chinese held to a strong vision that it deserved to be a great nation once again.
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