Part one of this series explored the evolution of the bureaucratic state. The key claim that enabled it to become the leviathan the founders feared was that the world had become too complex for average people. Changing the relationship between the American people and their government was a direct consequence, but what about the effects on society in general?
If we accept that life is too complicated, doesn’t that mean we need experts for all aspects of our lives? Everything becomes specialized. We are only competent to engage in what we ourselves are expert. This is exactly the opposite of what the founders intended. The expectation was not that a citizen would be locked into one vocation for all his/her life. The intent was to “pursue happiness” by following more than one interest. In terms of the meaning of life, Robert Heinlein said it best:
A man should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.1
This is perhaps a little exaggerated, but the sentiment should ring true to a free people. No activity should be off limits. What matters is achieving a suitable level of competence to have a positive effect on those around us. It is the attitude that has differentiated the United States in the World Wars—and the world stage in general. An 18th century farmer or a 19th century pioneer wouldn’t have blinked at Heinlein’s statement, except of course for “program a computer.”
In addition to be an extremely boring existence, everyone being confined to one stove-piped field leads to a degeneration in overall competence because no one feels competent enough to sanity check “the experts.” Without challenge, truth dies, and so does competence. The meaning of expert becomes perverted with the death of truth. As Hayek wrote in The Road to Serfdom, this is always the way of Marxism.
Even more insidious, that destruction of self-confidence also fosters unnecessary dependence, putting the populace at further disadvantage.
If we are to preserve liberty and freedom, we must acknowledge that experts are as flawed as anyone else. They must be challenged to enforce standards. If an expert cannot explain things in laymen’s terms, they should not be trusted.
There is an expectation that experts need to be identifiable, leading to credentialism. This is especially true of disciplines that can determine life or death. We can all agree that police, firemen, and doctors need be trained to preserve life. Even the framers would agree that our modern police and fire departments should be regulated by state and local government—but not by the national government. On the other hand, they would disagree that any government should use its force on the medical community. It should be strictly a private sector function, but even that presents problems.
No one wants an incompetent surgeon, but it is not his credentials that make him competent. It’s the results of his actions. Targets of medical malpractice suits are almost all credentialed. The American Medical Association (AMA) has wielded a heavy hand against those who would challenge their monopoly power.2 Early in the twentieth century, “friendly societies” were credentialing their own physicians. This challenged the AMA’s authority, so the AMA responded with a legal assault.3 In more recent times, chiropractors and osteopaths have been targets of the AMA’s power. Osteopaths compromised their underlying principles to gain AMA credentials. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is an intersection of public and private credentialism. It is the worst of both worlds.
Most organizations are started to address a real need, like ensuring that a doctor is not completely incompetent. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stay that way. Jerry Pournelle captured the essence of why all organizations tend toward corruption with his “Iron Law of Bureaucracy.” His simple law is:
There are two groups in any organization:
Those who promote the goal of the organization.
Those who promote the organization.
Group two always gains control and makes the rules.
I would further add that group two promotes themselves in the process of promoting the organization.
Pournelle’s law captures that those in group two are into gaining power before achieving the goal of the organization. The byproduct is that the organization eventually loses sight of its original goal in the pursuit by some for personal gain. This is innate in human interactions and explains the root of corruption.
The founders of the United States not only recognized the phenomenon, they designed the Constitution to hold it in check. This application of Newton’s third law of dynamics is the only way to check corruption in government. Although the framers largely designed the system to check itself, they also recognized that the people had to be the ultimate check. They viewed elections as the ultimate control.
If we are going to credential experts, we need to ensure that the credentialling agency is kept honest. To date, the administrative state (like the CDC) has remained outside of the framework laid down by the framers. That needs to change. The private sector imposes different issues from the public sector. Private-sector competition is perhaps the best way to keep organizations honest. An informed public will recognize and punish dishonesty and reward competence.
It is important to remember that the opinions of experts differ as much as those of the average bear. Where political schism exists, there is a tendency to promote the expert with whom we agree. It is difficult, but not trusting an expert who agrees with us is even more important than calling into question an expert who disagrees.
Every thought or idea should be evaluated based upon its merit, not that of the person who originates it.
The former depends upon clear thinking. The latter lets emotion rule us. A functioning republic depends upon the former. The worst consequences of a democracy are enabled by the latter. It is that path that leads to tyranny and totalitarianism.