We don’t care about experts anymore

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

James Pethokoukis cites “a great quote” that came up from Leave, “We don’t care about experts anymore,” and Charles Murray offers his thought:

Well, you’ve got two kinds of problems with experts, and one of them has to do with all of the mistakes that they have made. And that is, we have had experts on how to do deal with poverty, how to deal with welfare, how to deal with crime, how to deal with other things over the past 50 years, who have recommended polices that have been disastrous. The experts have been simply wrong. They were wrong about school bussing; they were wrong about prison only makes people worse back in the 1970s when the prison population dropped even though crime was soaring; again and again you’ve had people who were experts who were advocating and passing policies that ordinary people looked at and said, “This is absolutely nuts.” Affirmative action, by the way, sort of falls into that category as well. So one problem is that they’ve been wrong.

Another problem with the experts — and I think that this gets to a lot of the visceral anger that people have — is that the experts have been recommending policies for other people for which they do not have to bear the consequences. The case of immigration is a classic case where I can sit down with economists on both the left and the right, and we with great self-satisfaction talk about all of our wonderful analyses that show that this idea that immigrants are driving down wages of native-born Americans is way over-exaggerated; that immigration is essentially a net plus, so forth and so on… Those analyses may be right, but that does not change the fact that we aren’t the people who are like the carpenter who used to make $16 an hour, and he is losing work because contractors are hiring immigrant carpenters for $12.

All of our lovely analyses of the macroeconomic effects do not get around that problem. On the contrary, as far as our lives are concerned, we experts get cheap nannies and we get cheap people to mow our lawns, and in a lot of ways this low-scale immigration has been a boon to us. The degree to which we experts advocate policies that affect other peoples’ lives badly but not our own. really angers people, and I understand that.


  1. Alrenous says:

    Expert & wrong → contradiction. Unless ‘expert’ means ‘state endorsed.’

  2. William Newman says:

    “Expert & wrong → contradiction.”

    Occasionally the universe throws a curveball that gives the experts a pretty good justification for being wrong. E.g., Sir W. Thompson concludes that the consolidation of the crust can hardly have occurred less than twenty or more than four hundred million years ago, but probably not less than ninety-eight or more than two hundred million years. That was a pretty sound estimate until radioactive materials were discovered some two decades later, and radioactivity had done a good enough job of concealing itself until then that I don’t think it was unreasonable that it had been overlooked.

    Before that, treating optical interference patterns as conclusive evidence that light is a wave not a particle seems very reasonable (and useful) to me: many decades would pass before experimental problems with that started to turn up.

    The more usual pattern, though, is not the occasional innocent slip into Nature’s sneaky traps by true experts, but frauds speaking power to truth while claiming to be experts. This seems to be a particular temptation in the twilight of the long march through the institutions, for the ability to argue from authority while stoutly pretending that there is no corruption and decay naturally lasts long after corruption and decay has ravaged other abilities.

  3. T. Greer says:

    Not really a contradiction. Just misclassification of the problems experts are given.

  4. David Foster says:

    What has really happened is that the genuine expertise of engineers, (real) scientists, etc has been used as a false precedent for claims of expertise by people whose fields do not really lend them to expertise of the same sort, and/or who have misrepresented the level of expertise that they possess.

    You can almost always trust to the expertise of airplane designers, pilots, mechanics, and air traffic controllers to get you to you destination safely. You cannot trust the expertise of economists and MBAs to predict the safety of a mortgage-loan pool with anything like the same degree of certainty….and when it comes to predicting the true effects of legislation driving massive social changes, the opinion of an ‘expert’ is probably no better than that of a random guy down at Joe’s Bar.

  5. TPC says:

    The cheap nannies thing was like decent quality clothing at Walmart– a short term artifact of the 1990s that disappeared quite some time ago.

    Cheap nannies who don’t have insanely high turnover are no longer something anyone has access to. But certainly people who were raising kids during peak women in the workforce (1990s) had access to it, as shown in Die Hard.

    So I guess I’m agreeing with the basic no consequences point. Childcare isn’t really something American women used to do solo nearly to the extent they do nowadays though and this is hidden behind rhetoric about cheap nannies.

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