Seeing Through the Policy Expert Witchcraft


Unless you believe that jumping through some hoops for a credential is an irreplaceable measure, being a “professional” something ultimately just means that you can consistently get other people to pay you to do it.  On the popular (though fading) television show, The Walking Dead, a character known as King Ezekiel quietly tells a confidant to “fake it ’till you make it, baby.”

On Jonah Goldberg’s The Remnant podcast, the conservative writer asks every guest what most surprised him or her about life in Washington, D.C. (or would surprise others).  The most popular answer is that nobody really seems to know what they’re doing, in the sense of formulating workable plans and seeing them through.

I thought of these examples when I read a Glenn Reynolds post quoting Brett Samuels of The Hill:

CIA Director Mike Pompeo on Tuesday praised President Trump’s grasp of intelligence briefings, saying he has the same depth of understanding as agency veterans. ‘I have seen 25-year intelligence professional receive briefings. I would tell you that President Trump is the kind of recipient of our information at the same level that they are,’ Pompeo said during an interview with the American Enterprise Institute.

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As with much in the Trump presidency, the sense that I get from this testimony isn’t that Donald Trump is a genius, but that our so-called experts, especially in government, are so mesmerized by theory, in one eye, and political schemes, in the other, that “being qualified” means being able to miss the point.  Dennis Prager periodically uses the line that it takes a Ph.D. to believe that men and women aren’t different.  Well, maybe it takes government professionals 25 years to get back to the level of intuitive insight that a person of average intelligence and general experience would have when considering a matter for the first time.

So:  Our economy isn’t growing very quickly?  Make it easier for people to do things by reducing regulations, and allow them to keep more of the money that they earn.  We’ve got some dictatorial regimes edging their way toward devastating military capabilities while spewing apocalyptic rhetoric?  Let them know that the biggest dog in the yard isn’t going to stay deliberately silent, so there’s some risk to their behavior.

Another way to frame this would be to say that expertise changes priorities.  Fixing a problem ceases to be the very highest goal, replaced by maintaining the framework that experts have built to address it… and (of course) allowed these particular experts to make the decisions.