The vast Federal regulatory apparatus that we know and love today got its start early in the 20th century under President Woodrow Wilson. Appropriately, Wilson was the only President in US history to earn a PhD – he’d been president of Princeton University.
Back in 1986 I launched a wealth management firm I conceitedly called “Greycourt” – it’s an anagram for my name. The firm met with modest success and in 1988 I incorporated it. I was probably the most hopeless, bumbling entrepreneur in the history of private enterprise, but somehow I’ve been with Greycourt for 31 years.
As far as reigning in annoying experts is concerned, Congress and the judiciary are a bust, albeit with a few tiny bright spots on the distant horizon, twinkling away like dying lighthouses on a storm-tossed sea. But what about the Presidency?
In my last post we examined the (pathetic) attempts of Congress to control the tyranny of the experts. Fortunately, Congress isn’t the only weapon in the battle against expert oppression, even at the Federal level. Let’s take a look at the judiciary.
The complexity of modern life has steadily whittled away the functions the ordinary citizen can intelligently and comprehendingly perform for himself. *** [W]hen he sits down to breakfast and looks at his morning paper, he reads about a whole range of vital and intricate issues and acknowledges … that he has not acquired the competence to judge most of them. – Richard Hofstadter
Freedom is better, even when it’s worse.
We might think about experts the way we think about stop signs (bear with me on this…)
Viewed through the lens of “the tyranny of the experts,” it’s easy to see that in the last election Hillary Clinton was the candidate of the experts, while Donald Trump was the candidate of people who were tired of being tyrannized by them.
Populism is an unsettling phenomenon in part because we don’t know where it will end. And we don’t know where it will end because populism isn’t itself a governing idea – it’s a response to the perceived failure of other governing ideas.
If we wanted to – well, hell, we do want to – we could go back 2,500 years and identify the exact point when human civilization went off the rails on the subject of experts.
Not that long ago – say, when my parents were starting out in married life – building a sound investment portfolio was a piece of cake. You bought some Blue Chip stocks and some Triple A bonds and you were done.