I sincerely hope that ‘experts’ of all stripes — and not merely economists — take note of your admonition toward humility.
The kind of humility you advocate, however, is something one rarely sees among the ‘experts’ — within government and think-tanks and academia — who routinely proclaim to us all that they know “the truth” and that the proper role and responsibility for the rest of us is simply to shut up and do as they say.
That may not be completely fair: it may be that the apparent hubris of expertise is exaggerated by reporters and a news media that is besotted with the idea of ‘expertise’ and, therefore, amplifies the voices of the most self-certain while muting the voices of the humble. It may be that many or most experts are, indeed, well aware of their self-limitations but that their voices are not the ones that the media chooses to tell us about; or, it may be that the various caveats and disclaimers with which they accompany their assertions never make it through the filter of the reporters’ perceptions into the news stories and analyses written about them.
And, it may also be that those, in particular, who choose to go into government are self-selected from among the most hubristic precisely because their very self-confidence leads them to the belief that they should also have the power to impose their chosen “solutions” upon others.
Regardless of the reason, however, what is presented as ‘expertise’ for public consumption is, all too often, the farthest thing from your humble ideal: it is, rather, most often arrogant; and it is, far too frequently, also condescending.
And that arrogance and condescension is exacerbated by the fact that such experts frequently extend their claims to ‘expertise’ beyond what is justified by their training and experience. A medical researcher will discover some (perhaps tentative) connection between a chemical or a food and some health state, like heart disease. They will then not only exaggerate their certainty, proclaiming that the evidence of such connection is irrefutable and unequivocal (Eat this and you will die!), rather than provisional and subject to chance, but will also proclaim, with equal certainty, that a particular policy prescription — Ban that chemical! — is, by extension, mandatory; and they will claim that their policy prescription is simply a matter of “following the science” and, therefore, also wholly within their ‘expertise’, as if such policies have no other economic or practical or emotional or moral dimensions beyond the narrow realm of “science” that might require consideration.Continue reading