Expertise and elitism

Of course experts sometimes get things wrong. But a politician who breaks with the expert consensus on an issue has an obligation to explain why and how the experts are wrong. Calling expertise “elitism” is a slimy ploy, and we’ve had almost eight years of seeing how well it works in real life.

Hillary Clinton on This Week, challenged to name a single expert who thinks her gas tax holiday makes sense:

I think we’ve been for the last seven years seeing a tremendous amount of government power and elite opinion basically behind policies that haven’t worked well for the middle class and hard-working Americans.


We’ve got to get out of this mindset where somehow elite opinion is always on the side of doing things that really disadvantage the vast majority of Americans.

Note how completely Bushian these responses are. “Don’t trust them expurts.”

Of course it’s the case that experts make mistakes, and that sometimes the expert consensus is wrong. And it’s perfectly appropriate for a political leader to say, “Yes, I know that most experts in this field disagree with my position, but here’s why I think the experts are wrong about this one.”

But Clinton doesn’t do that. She doesn’t try to explain why she thinks her proposal will work. Instead, she simply appeals to ignorance. Indeed, she more or less admits that she doesn’t have a coherent plan, and certainly not one that would work for this summer:

I’m not going to put my lot in with economists, because I know if we get it right, if we actually did it right, if we had a president who used all the tools of the presidency, we would design it in such a way that it would be implemented effectively.

But she continues to insist that making “the oil companies pay the gas tax instead of consumers and drivers” &#8212 even though the federal gasoline excise tax is already collected from refiners, not consumers &#8212 is somehow a good idea, even though she can’t find an expert to agree with her and can’t herself explain how it’s supposed to work.

Of course Sen. Clinton is too intelligent and too knowledgeable to believe any of this. She hasn’t parted company with reality. (I’m less clear about Sen. McCain; he’s saner than George W. Bush, but not all that sane in absolute terms.) But by deliberately making a big campaign issue on a question where she has chosen what she knows to be the substantively wrong side, Sen. Clinton has definitely parted company with the reality-based community.

Update Bob Reich has more.

Second update A nice amateur video makes the point clearly:


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: