Expertise And Economic Intervention

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One way to think about conservative ideology formation in America is that many prominent conservative writers, such as National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, are kind of dim-witted and thus need to come up with principles that allow them to write about diverse issues without having any insight into anything. Thus this diatribe against “experts”:

The cult of experts has acolytes in all ideological camps, but its most institutionalized following is on the left. The left needs to believe in the authority of experts because without that authority, almost no economic intervention can be justified. If you concede that you have no idea whether your remedy will work, it’s going to be hard to sell it to the patient. Market-based ideologies don’t have that problem because markets expect events in ways experts never can.

How so? This same argument simply applies to all deviations from the pre-existing status quo. You have a situation (unregulated carbon dioxide emissions, chattel slavery, widespread regulation of airfares, Social Security) that’s persisted for a while and been consistent with the existence of human civilization. Then along comes a reformer who says we should price greenhouse gases, or treat blacks as equals, or let the market set the price of an airplane ticket, or tell people to save on their own for retirement and shoulder the risk personally. The reformer is bound to say that his shiny new idea will solve some kind of problem. But many people, including both privileged stakeholders with a direct interest in perpetuating the status quo and also risk-averse people generally, will resist your proposed reform. If the reformers end up conceding that they have no idea whether their remedy will work, then it’s going to be hard to sell it to the patient. This is a characteristic of change, not of left-wing economic policy.