Do the Experts Know Anything?

Justin Fox wonders why we value experts’ views so much given how wrong they have been all this while. The focus obviously is on economic experts:

Economic professionals were overwhelmingly of the opinion that leaving the European Union would hurt the United Kingdom. And until a few hours ago, the consensus of public opinion experts — at least if one uses prediction markets as a proxy — was that voters would in the end decide to stay in the EU. Didn’t work out that way, did it? Brexit won. Take that, experts!

The Brexit referendum isn’t the only topic on which experts — people who possess knowledge that most others don’t — have been on the defensive. Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, for example, can fairly be seen as a rejection of expertise in all its forms. And long before the Trump phenomenon, critics in the U.S. were gleefully attacking the expert consensus on everything from climate change to vaccinations.

Why are experts having such a tough time?  From my current perspective (that of a generalist business-and-economics journalist sitting at a desk in the Bloomberg News bureau in Beijing, which I am visiting this week), three main reasons stand out.

  • Experts are wrong a lot.
  • Experts are elitist.
  • Nonexperts can be pretty susceptible to nonsense.

Well third point applies to experts equally as well. I think, second point is a crucial one. It is all about hubris and this belief that I know it all which leads to all kinds of problems. Media also accords someone an expert on all matters without doing a background check.

This is specially relevant for economists who is expected to know answers for all the ills facing an economy. All you need to say is the person has a phd in economics from an ivy league university and lo magic is done. You are an expert on all economic matters under the sun. Whereas someone who has actually built expertise without going to a college really, will be ignored.


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