Being a Talking Head Means Never Having To Say You Are Sorry

One of the features of modern society that both amazes and disturbs me is how people who have already proved themselves incompetent in some domain get trotted out as respected experts. Many of the military and diplomatic whizzes who helped blunder the U.S. into Iraq were subsequently invited onto TV shows to discuss whether the surge was a good idea. Bob Shrum, with his zero for 8 record as a presidential campaign manager, repeatedly gets asked his opinion about presidential elections. How much it would please me for an interviewer to ask Shrum “Bob, you are really skilled at losing elections, what does Hillary Clinton really need to do right now in order to be defeated?”, or for a TV show host to ask an alleged military expert “General, you gave terrible advice on Iraq, and I wonder what terrible advice you have on Afghanistan”.

But instead, it’s all reverence, knowing nods of agreement and warm thanks for your insight, sir. It’s bad enough that prominent people are not held to account for their mistakes, but the fact they are lionized later as if they had succeeded really sticks in my craw.

As Ryan Cooper notes, economic policy has been one of the arenas in which failure just doesn’t stick to people’s reputation like it should:

For the last generation and more, serious people in suits bearing white papers about economic development have been one of the greatest threats to world prosperity. It was serious, sober technocrats, sporting elite education and wide experience, who laid waste to Russia after the collapse of the USSR. Similar people created the eurozone — now an economic disaster area suffering through a crisis worse than the Great Depression.

Rather dispiriting, but a small dose of justice has come from Daniel Hannan’s video regarding the upcoming “Brexit” ballot initiative. The political and business figures who are leading the campaign for Britain to remain part of the EU are largely the same people who said that not joining the Euro would be an economic disaster. For those of you keeping score at home, Britain is enjoying rising wages and its lowest unemployment rate in 7 years, while the Eurozone struggles on with more than double the British unemployment rate. The British Euro devotees never apologized for the lousy advice they gave in the past (and no doubt never will), but at least they get their comeuppance herein.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.