Defer to the Experts

Nate Silver has a reasonable post excoriating the lunatic fringe for their rabid opposition to various parts of the stimulus package despite the fact that virtually none of them have any clue what they’re talking about. His conclusion, too, sounds reasonable:

What I’m asking you to do is to clear the playing field. This is neither the time nor the place for mass movements — this is the time for expert opinion. Once the experts and I’m not one of them have reached some kind of a consensus about what the best course of action is and they haven’t yet, then figure out who is impeding that action for political or other disingenuous reasons and tackle them — do whatever you can to remove them from the playing field. But we’re not at that stage yet.

Here’s the thing, though: He wrote that less than 24 hours ago. Since then, the congressional leadership and President Obama have struck a deal that, most likely, will pass both Houses and get signed into law over the holiday weekend.

The experts will not have reached a consensus by that point. Hell, Tim Geithner won’t have figured out the details by that point. (And that’s not a shot at Geithner; that he realizes he doesn’t have the answers is a good thing.)

Unfortunately, while this is indeed a time when deferring to the technocrats would seem prudent (although I’m not unsympathetic to the contrarian view expressed by David Sirota) policy is being made by innumerate economic dunces on the basis of political horsetrading.  So, the tiny fraction of the 99.9999 percent of us who are clueless on the details of this who nonetheless care might as well weigh in now.

Story via memeorandum. Photo by Flickr user Joe Shlabotnik under Creative Commons license.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Economics and Business, US Politics, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Ah, the beloved appeal to the unnamed authority fallacy. Unless he’s referring to Tim Geithner, he hasn’t named the authorities on whom he’s telling us to rely.

    If he is referring to Tim Geithner, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask whether Geithner is actually an authority. Being Secretary of the Treasury doesn’t make anybody an authority on anything but being Secretary of the Treasury and he’s too green in that job to be able to speak authoritatively on the subject.

    Being an economist doesn’t make him an authority on the current financial crisis. Economics is a descriptive science not a predictive one. However able he is to describe it after the crisis is over it’s not tremendously helpful in averting the crisis.

    Does having been the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank make him an authority? He presided over the period during which the financial crisis developed. I think that it’s at least worth discussing whether that gives him special authority or suggests that he is no authority.

    I have nothing against Secretary Geithner. I think he’s in the same boat as the rest of us: a guy who’s in way over his head and is flailing around as best he can trying straighten things out.

  2. Anon says:

    There are some things, however, for which there does seem to be a consensus. For example, local and state aid of some sort seems to be something that experts on the right and left agree on, yet it was mostly stripped out.

  3. JKB says:

    If I remember correctly, it was the so-called experts who got us into this mess. Where was this expertise prior to the meltdown?

    No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense. ~ Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, Lord Salisbury (died 22 August 1903)

  4. odograph says:

    There has been not talk of a Stimulus Czar, though there have been good examples of very few people handing out large amounts of money with good judgment (early DARPA, etc.)

    I’m not sure who I’d pick (other than me), but I’m not sure that congresses inability to give someone a (say) $500B checkbook makes it the wrong course.

  5. odograph says:

    Bill Gates! He’s been pretty rational with his $40B

    (I dislike him for his influence on the path of computer science, but might like him ok as a private person.)

  6. PD Shaw says:

    On this occasion of Lincoln’s birthday, I have to wonder what would have happened had he referred to the expert (Gen. Scott) on the first major crisis of his administration (Fort Sumter). Lincoln learned soon enough that the General’s well-intentioned expert counsel was inextricably intertwined with his views on the politics of the matter. The General would have had the Union unconditionally withdraw from the Fort; I believe most historians support Lincoln’s actions as superior.

  7. Jay C. says:

    Since Nate Silver has finally devolved into revealing his cheerleading for Obama (which was quite transparent in the first place anyway) and since he’s all too willing to engage in logical fallacies, let me counter with an ad hominem of my own.

    If all Nate Silver can offer is to tell people to shut their traps and accept the word of so-called experts, then he has to be the one to first shut his trap and contemplate the irony of his actions. He’s a shill, been a shill since the beginning, and is risking exposing himself as a shill to everyone else who doesn’t suspect him as being a shill.

    –end ad hominem– thankyouverymuch

  8. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    …virtually none of them have any clue what they’re talking about.

    And what about those of us on the lunatic fringe who DO know what we’re talking about???

  9. Jay C. says:

    Patrick: by labeling people as being on the Lunatic Fringe, he also tries to posit as fact their lunacy and their fringe-y-ness. No need to discuss their ideas, Nate Shill-ver said that they are lunatic fringes and that’s good enough for some. In fairness to Shillver though, after having read his post, he links to a DKos diary about “letting the economy fail.”

    That isn’t Lunatic Fringe-y-ness. That’s mere idiocy. Leaving the market alone will most likely produce a correction that may hurt but will ultimately bounce back. Massive government intervention is more likely to realign the economy into a position that opens it up to actual failure. But that’s just the free market classical liberal in me talking. Nothing to see here, move along…

  10. So, um, were Fredrich Hayek and Milton Friedman experts? Or are some experts more equal than others.