All Commentary
Sunday, November 13, 2016

Government Experts Can’t Give You A Happy Life

Government by pretend “experts” destroys government by true experts.

Ideological and political disagreements are healthy. They reflect different perspectives, experiences and priorities. And although masked by the farcical circuses that are political campaigns, discussions and debates do change minds and move public opinion.

Only you are expert on what is best for you and your family.

Of course, some talk deserves less attention. Outright lies deserve no attention. So, too, with uninformed analyses that are passed off as informed analyses. If I, an economist, advise you on how to wire your home for electricity, ignore me. I’m no electrician. If you take my advice — say, because you’re impressed with the “Ph.D.” that I can gaudily parade behind my signature — your house will soon be in flames.

The same is true if I advise you on how to spend your money. You might think that because I’m an economist I have some expertise on this. But I don’t. Only you are expert on what is best for you and your family. I’m in no position to judge, say, whether it’s best for you to spend $1,000 on a family vacation or to save those funds for retirement. You’re the expert here, not me or anyone else.

Pretend Experts

Unfortunately, today’s world crawls with pretend experts whose titles and positions create the false impression that they have knowledge they can’t possibly possess.

Consider bureaucrats at the Food and Drug Administration. They don’t know you. None has any earthly idea of your preference for risk — say, how willing you are to risk possible death today to take a drug that might cure you of cancer that will otherwise surely kill you tomorrow. And yet these bureaucrats are commonly called “experts” on drug safety. What they have is expert knowledge of the various possible consequences, good and ill, of different drugs. But none of them has expert knowledge of the preferences and circumstances of each of the millions of individuals whose lives are governed by bureaucrats’ decisions on whether to approve a drug for public use.

Government by pretend “experts” destroys government by true experts.

Only you are expert on you and your family. Only you know if it’s “right” for you to deal with the risks and benefits of a certain drug. Of course, you’d be wise to seek input from a physician. But ultimately, even that physician shouldn’t have the final word over your medical treatment, for that physician is no expert on your preferences.

Similarly, only you are expert on what sort of employment arrangement is best for you. Despite the hordes of Ph.D.-boasting economists at the Department of Labor — and despite the countless reams of paper on which those scholars print the results of their econometric tests that reveal this or that variable to be “statistically significant” — those officials have zero knowledge of, say, whether it’s best for you to arrange for your employer to pay you overtime whenever you work more than 40 hours weekly. Of course more pay is nice, but you might prefer the greater job flexibility that your employer offers in lieu of overtime pay. But today, you, —the real expert — are overridden by the pretend experts in government who increasingly dictate your and other individuals’ terms of employment.

Government by pretend “experts” destroys government by true experts.

Republished CafeHayek via Trib Live.

  • Donald J. Boudreaux is a senior fellow with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Mercatus Center Board Member, and a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University.