Flat White

Covid-19 and the real problem with experts

18 January 2021

7:33 PM

18 January 2021

7:33 PM

The problem is not listening to experts. The problem is having experts who pay no price for their advice being wrong and therefore have no humility or modest.

In an interesting little piece in the Financial Times, John Thornhill talks about “re-emphasis[ing] the importance of experts, while accepting there is sometimes a spectrum of expert opinion”:

Societies have to base decisions on experts’ views in many fields, such as medicine and climate change, otherwise there is no point in having a debate. Dismissing the views of experts, as Michael Gove famously did during the Brexit referendum campaign, is to erode the foundations of a rational society. No sane passenger would board an aeroplane flown by an unqualified pilot.

Yes, but… The essence and the tone of this desire to “re-emphasise the importance of experts” is reflective of someone who has never suffered from expert advice, given in confidence but with no self consequence.

The suggestion that “[N]o sane passenger would board an aeroplane flown by an unqualified pilot” is absolutely correct because the pilot has skin in the game and will suffer the same adverse consequences as the passengers if there is pilot error.

Why societies have grown tired of so-called experts is because they are usually not that expert in the areas they advise on and worse, they pay no price when their advice is wrong and unsound.

Most public sector health and epidemiological are public sector workers. They suffer no risk to their jobs or income from the advice they have give — unlike the people directly affected by their advice.

As I have written elsewhere, we have designed an insane system that separates public sector workers from the consequences of their work. Under the code of laws handed down by the Babylonian ruler Hammurabi, a builder whose handiwork collapsed and the killed owner would be put to death. This would usually make the builder be more careful.

If you want to be an expert, put some skin in the game.

Let, for example, the people who declare Covid lockdowns, have their salaries linked to average small business income.

Stephen Spartacus blogs at Sparty’s Cast where a version of this piece also appeared.

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