*The Tyranny of Experts*

by on February 25, 2014 at 10:11 am in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

The author is William Easterly and the subtitle is Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor.

This is Easterly’s most libertarian book, self-recommending.  It is due out March 4.

prior_approval February 25, 2014 at 10:41 am

‘This is Easterly’s most libertarian book, self-recommending’

Why yes, self-recommending is one of the most libertarian things one can do.

Well, except for mining bitcoins.

Luckily, Amazon uses another form of payment for affiliate links.

triclops41 February 25, 2014 at 11:28 am

Comment made me laugh. Good one.

john personna February 25, 2014 at 10:51 am

Sounds good, though I am disappointed that the title gives impetus to the general decline of expertise. We don’t believe our doctors, our architects, our scientists like we used to. Perhaps they were all dragged down by the soft sciences.

prior_approval February 25, 2014 at 10:55 am

Wikipedia killed the expertise star.

msgkings February 25, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Now THAT was funny. You can be entertaining when you keep it short and non-creepy.

john personna February 25, 2014 at 11:25 am

As an aside, having read “Tropical Gangsters” by Robert Klitgaard, I am unsurprised by the premise.

Z February 25, 2014 at 11:41 am

I’m not so sure people believed their doctors, architects and scientists in the past any more or less than today. In the 19th century there was plenty of carping from science about the prevailing witchcraft. The fact that it came from people preaching scientific socialism and eugenics should probably give all of us pause. The history of science is the history of wrongness.

Skepticism is not a bad thing.

john personna February 25, 2014 at 11:51 am

I guess I should thank you for that splendid example of anti-intellectualism. In fact, genetics does not imply eugenics. That is the typical stumbling block that science faces with the under-informed and morally undeveloped, of course.

Z February 25, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Do you have a reading disability or are you really this stupid? You should think about putting yourself on listen mode and refrain from commenting.

john personna February 25, 2014 at 12:26 pm

You definitely went from “The fact that it came from people preaching scientific socialism and eugenics should probably give all of us pause” to “The history of science is the history of wrongness.” Wear it.

john personna February 25, 2014 at 12:28 pm

(The correct answer is to treat science as science, and to mistrust anyone who does say science implies a narrow social solution to any given problem. It is the translation out of science, to policy, that might be viewed with suspicion. First, make sure such policy mavens have their science right. Second, make sure the policies they promote are actually the best, most humane, efficient, and etc.)

john personna February 25, 2014 at 12:30 pm

shorter: anyone who drops the “eugenics” bomb probably doesn’t understand where science stops and politics begins.

Ricardo February 25, 2014 at 12:43 pm

But you can’t deny that science often implies policy. It is a very short walk from “humankind is affecting the climate adversely” to “we should do something about that.”

Z February 25, 2014 at 1:09 pm

I see your answer is “both.”

Skip Intro February 25, 2014 at 1:54 pm

The history of science is indeed the history of wrongness, and more specifically, a history of trying to overcome wrongness to get to something better.

john personna February 25, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Maybe we need some good (better) examples, Ricardo. We know genetics, for instance, and don’t think it implies eugenics. Even that most electrical subject today, anthropogenic climate change does not imply a particular solution. In fact, a scientific recognition of ACC only opens the door to a multitude of possible responses.

RM February 25, 2014 at 1:05 pm

It may well be that we do not believe our scientists (I will leave architects and doctors out of this) today as much as we did in the past. But it does not follow that we respect them less. It may well be that we do not believe them today as much as we did in the past because the general public now has a much better understanding of uncertainty. It is like I do not believe the weather forecast, but it is not because I do not believe the forecasters; it is because people today have a much better appreciation of uncertainties.

Society may also have higher expectations today about what constitutes acceptable information. Again, wrt the weather forecast, in the 1970s I may have been willing to accept a forecast that said in the 30s. Today, I want a forecast to the hour within +- 3 degrees.

john personna February 25, 2014 at 2:29 pm

5-7 day forecasts are awesome now, at least where I live (possibly a well covered market).

Brian Donohue February 25, 2014 at 3:41 pm

I dunno. Harris Telemacher was nailing extended forecasts for Southern Cali a long time ago.

Hell, I can do it. 70 and sunny, give or take.

Marie February 25, 2014 at 3:33 pm

@don’t believe doctors, architects, or scientists,

Decades ago we tended to do more of our own medicine and building (and vocationally “sciency” stuff like set up our own irrigation system or dye our own clothes). You called in the experts when you needed an expert, and then I suppose you trusted him because it was demonstrable that he was smarter in the field than you were (since you wouldn’t have called him if you could have done it yourself).

Today you have to pass every little thing past the “experts” — you can’t build a garage or buy an antibiotic without them — which means 1. we need a lot more of them, per capita, so many aren’t going to be very good at what they do; 2. we see them mess up a lot more, because when they make mistakes we recognize the mistakes, it’s not out of our league; 3. you get a lot more bluster out of the “experts” because they have to bolster their credibility with marketing, and that makes the mistakes seem larger by comparison with the claims; 4. there’s a resentment when you have to go to someone who might be less intelligent or less informed than yourself as a gatekeeper for a service you can do for yourself, just because he/she is licensed, credentialed, whatever — that creates more cynicism.

I suspect the soft sciences did play into this, in part because of this same interface — parenting and experts in early child development is a great example, when a parent of 8 gets told she has to defer to the 25 year old with no kids who isn’t comfortable even talking to a child because he has his PhD, and is an expert, that drags down your opinion of everyone who is called an expert.

That’s where I go with the title, and I don’t think that’s anti-intellectual. I think it’s harkening for a (possibly imaginary) time when intellectual, or expert, automatically meant something real.

john personna February 25, 2014 at 6:30 pm

To give the example that really drove it home for me, I said “my doctor wants me on statins.” To my shock, the near unanimous response from lay folk was “don’t do it.” Now, I understand that statins (like all medicine) are a double edged sword, but we certainly pay MDs to study and consider risks and benefits. Lay folk should know that they have a superficial understanding of the problem, gleaned from headlines and perhaps the first 3 or 4 paragraphs of a newspaper article. There should be a little more recognition of non-expertise attached to “don’t do it” … and “they just like to prescribe drugs” and the like should be viewed immediately and self-critically as possible canards. Irrational behavior.

Marie February 25, 2014 at 8:28 pm

Hmm, well, I can’t speak to a blanket “don’t do it” — that seems just as reflexive as saying “just do it”, certainly no better and probably worse if their opinion is, indeed, based on the latest Today Show story.

However, the older I get and the more people I know the more frequently I hear credible stories of medical error — both understandable (no one can get everything right) and inexcusable. Stats put iatrogenesis as killing a quarter of a million Americans a year. It’s not that I think my lay opinion is just as good as or better than that of a true expert; it’s that my judgment based on my experiences tells me that not every supposed expert is a true expert.

I know several doctors I’d take a bullet for, so I’m not anti-every-doctor. You have to take them one by one. I’d guess this applies to all manner of “expert”.

justaguy February 26, 2014 at 7:04 am

It’s also apparent that the quality of studies using human subjects tends not to be very good, for some obvious reasons, so one becomes wary of taking advice based on them. In the case of statins, the consensus has migrated from, “Take them like vitamins” to “Take them for primary prevention, but not secondary prevention, and be more careful about taking vitamins, too.”

Plus, a la Ioannides, the sheer amount of fraud and incompetence in scientific literature is dismaying.

dan February 25, 2014 at 11:07 am

The Kindle version wont be available until March 4, but hardcover is available right now.

Eric Falkenstein February 25, 2014 at 11:08 am

‘self-recommending’: not interesting enough for me, but I want to appear helpful.

Skip Intro February 25, 2014 at 1:56 pm

I was wondering if “self-recommending” is literally true, i.e. chapter 1 begins, “You should buy this book. It is very lucid and packed with worthwhile information.”

I wonder also if “self-recommending” suggests that Tyler does not, in fact, recommend it.

mulp February 25, 2014 at 11:25 am

Is William Easterly not an expert?

Obviously Tyler is. He’s an economist.

Right??

Slocum February 25, 2014 at 12:52 pm

One can be an expert without being a technocrat or believing technocratic solutions are the best approach to global poverty (or to governing in general — c.f. Seeing Like a State)

Afrophile February 25, 2014 at 2:53 pm

What’s really interesting (IMHO) is if you follow the link to the Amazon page, you’ll see that among the people who have written positive blurbs for the book is Paul Romer, who says the following: “Easterly’s new book shows that the expert approach to development rests on an engrained but unexamined premise: that people in poor countries cannot be trusted to make their own decisions. As this wide-ranging and compelling account shows, this assumption is doubly flawed. It’s morally offensive and a sure guide to bad policy.” I repeat, this is a quote from Paul “Charter Cities” Romer!!!

Anon. February 25, 2014 at 3:42 pm

I don’t see a discrepancy. Charter cities are all about giving poor people in those countries freedom to make decisions. Decisions that the existing institutional regime is preventing for whatever reason.

Afrophile February 25, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Charter cities are about putting governing decisions in the hands of an unaccountable board of foreign technocrats

Jayson Virissimo February 26, 2014 at 3:35 pm

There are already at least two books with a title of “The Tyranny of Experts”; one by Morris E. Chafetz and the other by Jethro K. Lieberman.

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