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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

There are experts and there are “experts”

As I work away at a talk I am to give tomorrow evening at Christian Michel’s, I am also, of course, wandering about in the www. And during the latest wandering I was provoked into thinking about another talk, one that I will be hosting rather than giving, on the last Friday of February. Marc Sidwell will, that evening, be speaking about: “Twilight of the Wonks? Promoting freedom in a post-expert world”.

This rather witty cartoon, which I came across here, is very pertinent to Marc Sidwell’s talk, I think:

This cartoon is now to be seen all over
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When people cite experts, be careful

So the idea this letter represents mainstream economics must be challenged. When Sky is reporting it without an alternative viewpoint, it can mislead the public. But this also shows something interesting about the political left. People across the political spectrum like to appeal to the authority of “experts” to improve credibility. But for the left, this is crucial. Unlike supporters of markets, left-wing interventionists believe experts can direct economic activity for us. Building up the idea that “experts” support these interventions and believe they work is therefore of critical importance to obtaining public acceptance.

– Ryan Bourne, Institute of Economic
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An ‘arrogance’ of experts?

They are at it again. Medical experts are advising the state that they should mass medicate the population of Britain against a non-infectious disorder.

Perhaps a ‘totalitarianism’ of experts might be more accurate as Food Standards Agency seem to think it is the super-owner of the bodies of everyone in the country.

The State…and its experts… do not know best

Mad cow disease (vCJD), foot-and-mouth, MMR, salmonella in eggs… the list goes on and on. The reality of life is that no one has a monopoly on insight, intelligence and information. Yet the state would have us believe that in their case when they say something, is somehow of a higher order compared to any other institution or individual. After all, it that was not the case, how could the fact the state backs its views with the threat of violence be justified?

Yet time and time again we are told in patronising tones that the state’s experts know best,
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Celebrity experts save the world!

I am trying not to laugh as I watch rock musician Bono hold forth on satellite television about issues of Third World debt and so on at the World Economic Forum held in New York. Perhaps we can look forward to getting Britney Spears on the fight against terrorism, Mick Jagger on Aids and Tiger Woods on global warming. I guess I am being irreverent, but what the heck, it’s Friday!

Priestcraft

To the priests of ancient Egypt, the complexity of their writing system was an advantage. To be one of the few who understood the mystery of writing made a priest a powerful and valuable man.

This article, “The EU: Authoritarianism Through Complexity”, is by George Friedman who used to be chairman of Stratfor and now is chairman of a body called Geopolitical Futures.

Reading it made me think that the old term “priestcraft” might be due a revival:

The British team consists of well-educated and experienced civil servants. In claiming that this team is not up to the task
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Britain’s tribal allegiances are changing

Politics is about many things, but one of the big things that it is about is which political tribe you are a member of, and about how big the various tribes are. So, when a whole tranche of voters manage to persuade themselves out of membership of one of the big tribes, it’s a very big deal.

As Guido puts it:

Voting UKIP was in hindsight a gateway to voting Tory.

Key word there: “gateway”. A general election is about more than what voters merely think. It is about how they see themselves. It is about who they are, and
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Economists behaving like activists

I do not know enough to assess the views of Paul Romer, the chief economist for the World Bank, when it comes to his specialism. I need no special knowledge to assess his views as reported in the Times on restoring the standing of his profession. He gets it.

Economists need to stop acting as if they own the moral high ground and start behaving with more humility if they are to win back the public’s trust after Brexit, according to the World Bank’s chief economist.

Paul Romer said that a popular backlash against experts needed to be taken seriously
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A muddle of psychiatrists

Here is a fun little article in The Independent about psychiatrists who think Donald Trump is mentally ill, and it is their professional duty to warn people. They are saying this sort of thing:

I’ve worked with murderers and rapists. I can recognise dangerousness from a mile away. You don’t have to be an expert on dangerousness or spend fifty years studying it like I have in order to know how dangerous this man is.

This sounds like complete nonsense, but it turns out that “clinical evaluation for predictions of future dangerousness, have become integral to the function of the
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Yuval Noah Harari on how the knowledge economy reduces war

In this earlier posting about a book I had been reading, I talked about how reading can turn sort of knowledge into knowledge of a more solid sort. The author says something which you already sort of knew, but as soon as he says it, you know it much better. Often such knowledge consisted of things you already knew about separately, but you hadn’t connected them in your mind.

Recently this happened to me again. Like many others, I have lately been reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. And I soon learned that Harari, like Steven Pinker, has noticed
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How to win like Trump

Marc Sidwell’s book How To Win Like Trump: Nine Simple Rules for Victory Against the Odds explains how Donald Trump won the US presidential election. It is written in the style of a self-help book and in simple Trump-like language. This makes it a fast and easy read: it does not take itself too seriously. And it avoids “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity”. But it is packed with insight.

For example, politicians and the press are between them largely acting out a fiction which has similarities to the kayfabe of professional wrestling.

Trump had two insights, thanks
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Samizdata quote of the day

The idea that an economist is an expert even in Economics is a dubious one. I would like to see two control groups shadowing every team of ‘expert’ economists – one making random predictions, the other a group of astrologers. After five years we compare their predictions for accuracy.

– Samizdata commenter Rob