June 1, 2016

ARNOLD KLING ON THE ERA OF EXPERT FAILURE:

I have faith in experts. Every time I go to the store, I am showing faith in the experts who design, manufacture, and ship products.

Every time I use the services of an accountant, an attorney, or a dentist, I am showing faith in their expertise. Every time I donate to a charity, I am showing faith in the expertise of the organization to use my contributions effectively.

In fact, I would say that our dependence on experts has never been greater. It might seem romantic to live without experts and instead to rely solely on your own instinct and know-how, but such a life would be primitive.

Expertise becomes problematic when it is linked to power. First, it creates a problem for democratic governance. The elected officials who are accountable to voters lack the competence to make well-informed decisions. And, the experts to whom legislators cede authority are unelected. The citizens who are affected by the decisions of these experts have no input into their selection, evaluation, or removal.

A second problem with linking expertise to power is that it diminishes the diversity and competitive pressure faced by the experts.

A key difference between experts in the private sector and experts in the government sector is that the latter have monopoly power, ultimately backed by force. The power of government experts is concentrated and unchecked (or at best checked very poorly), whereas the power of experts in the private sector is constrained by competition and checked by choice. Private organizations have to satisfy the needs of their constituents in order to survive. Ultimately, private experts have to respect the dignity of the individual, because the individual has the freedom to ignore the expert.

These problems with linking expertise with power can be illustrated by specific issues. In each case, elected officials want results. They turn to experts who promise results. The experts cannot deliver. So the experts must ask for more power.

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