Why the 'Experts' should never rule

Maybe it's just me, but I'm finding an overwhelming number of regular people who believe in 'trusting the experts' when it comes to policy.  It's very strange actually.  It is almost taken as a given that the experts should be in charge.

Here, I'll present a few arguments why the experts SHOULD never be in charge.

Experts really don't know everything
Well this is any easy one,  Experts really aren't that good.  We saw it with the recent financial crises.  Here we had some of our brightest minds in the financial world; countless models, countless authorities monitoring the economy... and yet... the experts didn't predict it correctly.  Whereas I met countless regular people who simply said... this housing market is crazy... it has to end.  Countless regular people who said, we're making too much money just on playing with money.  This is going to end.  In this regard, the opinion of experts and regular people were pretty much equally relevant when it actually came to results.

I believe this problem stems from treating everything as science.  Being an engineer, I trust science and the scientific method every day.  If I want to make a chemical compound, build a airplane, I trust science.  I trust the numbers.  The laws are fixed and well understood.  The same cannot be said for economic and social issues.  These are complex systems and involve vague concepts like human behavior.  People have tried to turn these into sciences.  Hence terms like social sciences and financial engineering.

Yet, let me say unequivocally, any attempt to turn economics or social science into a science will be met with abysmal failure.  Both these areas cannot submit themselves on a broad scale to the scientific method... and thus can hardly be called science.  The key element missing is REPEATABILITY.  Anyone who took a science class in elementary school should be familiar with repeating an experiment multiple time.  In real sciences, you can repeat an experiment.  This let's one see what effects variables have.

If I was trying to figure out gravity, I would run lots of experiments timing how quickly an object fell to the ground.  I would try different sized objects, different mediums, different weights, different parts of the world...only then would I have a reasonable concept of what gravity is.  Otherwise, I might just drop a feather once and it falls slowly due to air resistance, but I don't take that into account and so I miscalculate the force of gravity.

The problem with the social and economic issues is that they generally cannot be repeated under controlled conditions.
For example, PHDs have tried to study the GREAT DEPRESSION.  People have literally devoted their lives to it.  Yet, what can they actually say with any certainty after all these years?  Not much.  You can find supporting facts about any position you take in terms of government spending, monetary policy...  Even if you think you know the cause of past events, its impossible to try different actions and see what effect that would have.  And why is this?  Simply because the event happened once and cannot be repeated.  So we cannot isolate the variables and rerun the experiment.

Can we learn anything from the great depression about our current economic crises?  Not much.   Equally important as variable isolation is the reality that conditions changed.  Wages, family structure, technology, work force, free trade... have all changed so much that whatever you think you can learn from the great depression is all but worthless.

Indeed, Nicholas Taleb's book 'The Black Swan' discusses this as it relates to economic policy and our poor ability to model economic systems.  It is very difficult to predict future events from past experience in these kinds of cases.

Ditto for most social issues.  The conditions change on the ground so often, that we cannot rerun experiments.  If we were completely unethical, we could discover some real science in the social sciences.  Imagine cloning two people as identical twins, isolating them in control environments, and then raising them in different ways... and repeating this over and over.  We might be able to learn something factual.  Of course we would have to do this on mass to see what genes have an impact... But it would be so unethical.  So most social science is rather flimsy relying on modeling or surveys...  Hardly anything concrete.  And the impacts of bad social science are horrendous.  Never is this more evident than in education.

Just look at the residential school issues faced by the Native Americans.  Colonial Europeans thought Native parents were incapable of providing proper education to their kids, and the solution was for the kids to be removed from the care of their parents and the kids raised in government schools.  It turned out to be an absolute disaster and the children collapsed socially being raised without their parents.

So again... due to the non-repeatability of events, social and economic policy can never be run by experts as they really have few facts on their side.  The same cannot be said for real hard sciences where a person who has studied aerospace engineering knows factually a lot more about airplanes and I would trust them to make proper choices.

This is not to say social issues and economics are not worth studying.  The certainly are.  They just do not produce reliable results of scientific quality and thus should not be given the merits associated with real science.  They should be considered just another input into policy making.  Indeed financial modeling and social studies are excellent tools.  They often provide very good results within a limited spectrum.  Yet should they be used to set policy? Absolutely not.

For example, I would hope financial firms try to model things.  If they get it right, they might make more money.  The firms that model it incorrectly lose out.  Ditto for the social sciences.  Companies that adopt good mamagement techniques thrives.  Others will fail.  Again, these are very useful tools... but they should not be government policy.

Do I think social and economic policies can ever become sciences?  Well no I do not due to life constantly changing and their non-repeatability.  That all said, it is science fiction.  I recall reading the Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov as a young child.  In it, a brilliant scientist was able to 'predict' the future by massive modeling of large societal patterns.  But that's all science fiction :P

Experts are always politically controlled
Experts do not magically hold power.  They are granted power by political bodies.  As a result, the experts will never be free to actually have pure policy.  They will always be subjected to political pressure from unions, businesses... other special interests... and yes... the voting public.

Just to take a very simple case.  The experts come up with a grand transportation policy... and they want to fund it via higher taxes.  The voting population rejects it as they don't want the tax.

The experts will learn what they have to say to get into positions of power.   The experts really are not free to be experts.  They will always have to tow the political line.  Indeed, experts often have differing opinions on everything.  All the government does is pick the experts that agree with their position and say... this is expert advice.

The only way around this is to have a scientific dictatorship without democratic oversight.  Such as Plato's Philosopher Kings dream :)  Unless you're willing to have a dictatorship, you really cannot have a society run by experts.  Indeed, many western countries are trying to setup mini dictatorships within the public sector with unelected bureaucrats and committees writing policy.

Experts are not pure at heart
Well what is wrong with an expert dictatorship?  Won't they make all the best decisions?  Ah, but the experts are not pure of heart.  They are not saints.  Experts have as much greed, lust for power... as anyone else.  How can you 'trust' that an expert is truly giving their non-biased honest opinion and not just writing policy to benefit themselves?

Indeed, we have inherited this idea that the experts are objective from the history that experts held no power in the past.  Science was allowed to prosper freely predominantly because it held no power.  There is little reason to lie about the force of gravity.  There is every reason to not be truthful if it affects your money and power.  Would a scientist be alarmist about a natural disaster like asteroids hitting or global warming if their funding is tied to it... or their prestige?

This basically comes back to the great liberal Joha Action who said:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

Indeed this was a key element of the enlightenment.  The lesson was not that religion should not be in charge.  The lesson was that nobody should be in charge of society.   Whoever is in charge of society will be corrupt.  That is the true lesson of the enlightenment.  Those who wish to have an expert run society are regressive; wanting to return to the dark ages.

In the end of the day, an expert run society is no different than a theocracy.  They both submit the powers of society to a group of people who dictate what must be done.  Oh, but experts have peer review you say!  And priests have an ethical code that prevents them from molesting children... yet tell that to thousands of children sexually assaulted by the Catholic Church... while even the good priests stood by silently letting it happen.  Here we go again... experts are just people.  Having people follow the purest and goodest form of their ideology is a dream.  Power will corrupt them and then you have a horrible situation of corrupt people with a lot of power.

Indeed, I fear the corruption of science itself the more it is granted power.  Science will not purify politics.  Politics will corrupt science to the point where we can no longer trust science.  And I do not wish to go there.  The only reason science has gained the trust it has is because it has been deprived of power.

Empowering Experts Deprives People of solving their own problems
Sadly, empowering experts means regular people are disenfranchised towards solving their own problems.  Just to take a simple case.  Most policies require money.  So an expert run society will take money from the regular people and give it to the experts to spend.  This deprives the regular person of money to use to solve their own problems.

If you are a regular person in a western country and you do not think the public school system is appropriate for you, you do not have enough money to send your child to a private school as you have already paid so much money into the public school system via taxes.  You are deprived of the ability to solve your own problem.

An Expert Run Society is not Resilient
It's odd how little this word is actually used.  We always hear about efficiency as if we're all little machines optimizing efficiency.  Yet far more important than efficiency is resiliency.  How well does a system stand up to 'bad events'.  Let's take a computer example here.  If I ask a regular person about computers they would think that Google has amazing high tech, high end computers.  Yet Google is actually the opposite.  They have lots of little computers that are designed and expected to fail.  In this way, it is very resilient as a system.  At any given time one computer may go down... but as a whole the system thrives.

An expert run society might get a policy right and it might be the most efficient policy.  Yet this has to be weighed with the question... what if they're wrong?  What is the consequence?  What is the consequence of setting bad education policy at the national level?  You ruin the entire education for an entire generation of children?  See the Native Indian Residential school issue.  Whereas if you leave things at a local level, you might end up with small failures here and there... yet the overall system remains strong as different schools will adopt different policies... so nothing can bring down the entire system.

Indeed, some might argue this was the very cause of the economic crises.  The experts ran the banks and built economic models and ratings.  It was most likely highly optimized.  Yet did they ever ask... what happens if they're wrong?  Well you know the rest... the entire economic system collapsed.

Expert run systems rarely take into account resiliency as that often means having lots of different  policies and being humble enough to say 'I don't know'.

Science cannot give you values
This last point is extremely important.  Even if experts were saints and even if they somehow got everything right, you could still never have a society run by experts because life is full of different domains.  Weighing the 'value' of these different domains is purely a task in morality.  There is nothing objective about it.

What percentage of your budget do you spend on healthcare, education, transit, technology, culture, arts, regulations.  An expert on any individual field no doubt wants to solve every problem in their field and wants all the resources of a society to do it.  Yet balancing how much resources go to each problem is pretty much an arbitrary moral decision where once again Joe the Plumber's opinion is just as valid as a PHDs.

Let's take something like Global Warming.  How many resources should we devote to solving it?  For poor countries like China, how does the value of bringing a billion people out of poverty compare with solving global warming?  Should we even just let global warming occur and just deal with the consequences by moving people away from the coats...

Some might suggest you try to maximize the value to all people.  This is like philosophy 101.  It is called utilitarianism, but now once again, we're into philosophy which tends towards morality.  You might be able to make a theoretical case of maximizing benefit in cases like global warming by estimating the number of lives saved.  Yet when it comes to abstract values, you cannot really assign a number to it.

For example, how do value 'fun' or 'freedom'.  Everyone is going to value it differently.  To me life is an end unto itself so I value freedom significantly more than say, healthcare.  If an expert came to me and said if we impose these restrictions and ban these kinds of pleasure foods, we could extend life by 10 years.  I'd just say, I value freedom and living life more.  Others will have other opinions... all completely arbitrary.

In trying to value different domains, the experts are once again no better than regular people.

Indeed, as Buckley said, he would rather be ruled by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty.  A wiser saying we should all pay attention to.


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