How to Trust Experts

Arnold Kling, " When Experts Fail" recommends scepticism when a policy change would shift power from customers to "experts". Expertise may be important, but it's important that experts not choose the experts. Harriet would not perform auto-surgery. While Harriet will seek professional help, Harriet would prefer to retain the power to choose which surgeon, which mechanic, which teacher, which financial advisor, will serve.

Expertise degrades over time, as knowledge diffuses and technology evolves. Expertise becomes ossified, as "experts" become a self-perpetuating class of insiders. Absent very good arguments for a State-monopoly policy regime (arguments lacking in discussion of education and health policy, in Harriet's opinion), the default option which best protects the public's welfare is minimal State enforcement of "expert" privilege.

1) To the extent that a disagreement over policy reflects a difference of taste, multiple local policy regimes or a competitive market in goods and services allows for the expression of varied tastes, while the struggle for control of a State-monopoly industry (e.g., a school system) must inevitably create unhappy losers. In a multi-party contest, the losers might constitute a large majority of the players.
2) To the extent that a dispute over policy reflects a matter of fact, where “What works?” is an empirical question, numerous local policy regimes (e.g., small school districts, independent charter schools) or a competitive market in goods and services (e..g., health care, instructional services) will generate more information than will a State-monopoly industry. A State-monopoly enterprise is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls; a retarded experimental design.
3) Insiders have a stronger incentive to twist accountability mechanisms than outsiders, generally, have in keeping accountability mechanisms straight. Internal accountability mechanisms fail systematically. Economists call this "regulatory capture". People resolve more disputes through neglect than through confrontation. If you get a badly prepared meal or poor service in a restaurant, you don't scream at the chef or complain to management, or buy shares and influence restaurant operations "democratically", you eat somewhere else next time out. The most effective accountability mechanism humans have yet devised is a policy which gives unhappy customers the power to take their business elsewhere.

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