Experts Are Great… Just Not If They’re Too Powerful


Economist Arnold Kling makes a case for decentralizing the political power of experts that reads almost as if it was written with Rhode Island in mind, particularly the Commerce Corp.:

The additional power that is being granted to experts under the Obama administration is indeed striking. The administration has appointed “czars” to bring expertise to bear outside of the traditional cabinet positions. Congress has enacted sweeping legislation in health care and finance, and Democratic leaders have equally ambitious agendas that envision placing greater trust in experts to manage energy and the environment, education and human capital, and transportation and communications infrastructure.

However, equally striking is the failure of such experts. They failed to prevent the financial crisis, they failed to stimulate the economy to create jobs, they have failed in Massachusetts to hold down the cost of health care, and sometimes they have failed to prevent terrorist attacks that instead had to be thwarted by ordinary civilians.

Of course, modern society requires experts, but Kling suggests that they have to be subject to the incentives and controls of a marketplace of competition and voluntary action:

Given the complexity of the world, it is tempting to combine expertise with power, by having government delegate power to experts. However, concentration of power makes our society more brittle, because the mistakes made by government experts propagate widely and are difficult to correct.

It is unlikely that we will be able to greatly improve the quality of government experts.

Instead, if we wish to reduce the knowledge-power discrepancy, we need to be willing to allow private-sector experts to grope toward solutions to problems, rather than place unwarranted faith in experts backed by the power of the state.

One tweak I’d make is to note that the market naturally combines expertise with power, only it will tend to be granted based on proven success and can be removed as swiftly as a failure or competition can make somebody else’s product or service a better deal.  Government’s role should be to prevent experts and companies using their temporary advantage to build permanent walls against innovation and competition.  Instead, regulation, corporatism, and government-business alliances have tended to be halfway steps to monopoly and protectionism.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    “An expert is anyone form more than 40 miles away” – Abraham Lincoln

    • Russ


      • Rhett Hardwick