Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Expertise is Overated (On Average)

The recent hoopla surrounding Brexit has shined a dusty mote through the Overton Window. The media narrative surrounding Brexit consists mostly of an expert consensus that a Brexit would be disastrous for the UK. Let's unpackage this a little bit.

First, the Overton Window of acceptable political discourse in the UK appears to share commonality with the media narrative across the pond: politics is run by experts. Like a Matryoshka doll, we unpackage this idea and find another, smaller idea: politics, and the social sciences in general, are as a boat in a predictable sea of causation and experts are the captain who steers the till.

We could stop at this adorable, smaller Russian doll; but, then, we would deprive ourselves of smaller, more adorable dolls.

A politician or political consultant gains expertise by obtaining the necessary credentials; the necessary credentials are legitimate because the social sciences are, like physics, subject to the regular concatenation of natural phenomena; and, to tie up this memeplex in a nice bow, those credentialed at the most prestigious schools for social sciences are the experts who steer the worlds economic and political policies.

Thus, we arrive at the final doll: an adorable technocrat: a Harvard grad who spent time in the London School of Economics, did a stint at Goldman and is now an unelected official of a central bank or supranational entity like the UN or EU. While the technocrat is the height of expertise, there are many who would aspire to this position, but fall short. The opinion of these people (professors of economics, pundits at popular newspapers, talking heads, bureaucrats, etc...) still carries expert weight and when the opinions of all the experts reach critical mass, we reach the black hole of the social sciences: consensus.

The alternative view to technocracy, and a view that is outside the frame of the Overton Window, is that individual humans are the subject of the social sciences. The ideas that animate human actions are currently unmeasurable and by introspection we find that our own motivations are a complicated mess of competing interests. While humans in general display trends, they remain a rather unpredictable subject in contrast to the movement of particles in a vacuum whose interactions exhibit such regularity that we refer to theories of their behavior in some cases as laws.

Gravity, electromagnetism and mechanics are enough understood to the point that our complex society relies on the laws of their behavior remaining static. If gravity changed tomorrow, or oppositely charged particles no longer attracted, we would find chaos now ruled where order once did.

Conversely, if humans in my general vicinity tomorrow decide that aviator sunglasses are posh again, a new trend in human behavior has developed in favor of an older one. The individual human actions that create the market for sunglasses will respond by decreasing the availability of Wayfarers and increase the availability of aviators. If bomber jackets came to be preferred as well, we would all look like pilots in a very brief period of time.

What does this have to do with Brexit? If I google sunglasses, I am gifted with 174,000,000 results. If I click on one of the first links to Zappos, I am offered the option of browsing sunglasses by the geometric shape of my face. There are a lot of individuals interested in satisfying my need for sunglasses and it would behoove them greatly to know what I wanted before I did. The number of participants in the market makes evident the fact that very few people are successfully predicting and monopolizing the market for sunglasses. This is basically true for most markets, and is true in general about the predictability of human action.

In short: politicians, economists and pundits do not know what the consequences of Brexit would be. If they did, they would be billionaires and likely to be uninterested in trying convince other people of what they already knew: individual human action is impossible to predict and you'd be lucky to spot a trend.


  1. I look at Brexit the same way I look at the break up of another sort of a legal relationship: Divorce. I've never gone through a divorce personally, but I've witnessed divorces happen more often than I care to think about.

    Who gets what out of it? How are existing liabilities handled? What about the little ones that are used to the norms of both governing bodies who are now going to have to do without at least one of these? What's best for these little ones?

    Even these little ones have a choice of which governing body they live with. Transitioning out of my divorce analogy, if there are enough people that want to stay in the EU, why not move to a country that wants to remain - Especially if they're alleging some sort of solidarity with the EU? If Germany and Sweden are any indication, all you have to do is show up to join the family. Just call yourself a refugee.

    Transitioning back to the Divorce analogy..

    You don't know what happens until it happens. But once the "D" word becomes a serious part of the conversation, and not just a mantra invoked out of frustration, it's apparent there's only one path forward - and it's best for everyone involved so they can prosper without the burden of a toxic element.

    Humans adapt to their conditions. We boast a species that can thrive in all-- okay, most manners of harsh environments under a variety of conditions.

    1. To continue your analogy:

      Once the D word comes up, you can bet that people will be reaching for it again after a brief time when still nothing has changed.

      I think Bremain will happen because that's what the Pols (bureaucrats, not the sausage people) want. But that tension is there to stay.

      The underestimation of human adaptability is what makes decentralization seem scary. But, in order to make lasting change, we have to start with the man in the mirror.

      On another note, does the font on these pages seem hard to read or is it just my screen?

  2. The font looks a little small compared to what I'm used to, but I wouldn't say it's hard to read.

    I might be too optimistic, but I think Brexit has just as good a chance as Bremain. I think if it's close, Bremain will win somehow.

    At the time of this writing, 83% reporting in with 52% for Brexit. When voting gets this close, I'd lean towards the status quo winning.

    This goes to say, there's something comforting in knowing that there are so many people somewhere that pushed for decentralization. Up next, Texit?

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I think I've got it at a size I like now.

      Brexit is a surprising outcome. NWO'ers will say this and everything was planned. I tend to lean towards a popular revolt against globalism, but I may be more optimistic than others.

  3. What remains to be seen is the contents of this agreement for a Two year withdrawal window.

    Regardless, let's look at it for what it is: Nobody is necessarily endorsing one ideal or the next, but a considerable chunk of the population said no to Centralized institutions. The political ideals of this same chunk could likely be very different.

    I did some writing on the subject last night.