A while ago I stumbled across this piece. The line which most stuck with me was:
The rise of the environmental movement reflected the increasing independence of thought and judgment of a public that was becoming less and less impressed with credentials and degrees. The public wanted to take power back from experts and appointed government agencies and put up new obstacles in the way of technocratic engineers with big projects in mind.
But when it comes to global warming, the shoe is on the other foot. Now it is suddenly the environmentalists — who’ve often spent lifetimes raging against experts and scientists who debunk organic food and insist that GMOs and nuclear power plants are safe — who are the pious advocates of science and experts. Suddenly, it’s a sin to question the wisdom of the Scientific Consensus. Scientists are, after all, experts; their work is peer-reviewed and we uneducated rubes must sit back and shut up when the experts tell us what’s right.
More, environmentalists have found a big and simple fix for all that ails us: a global carbon cap. One big problem, one big fix. It is not just wrong to doubt that a fix is needed, it is wrong to doubt that the Chosen Fix will work. Never mind that the leading green political strategy (to stop global warming by a treaty that gains unanimous consent among 190 plus countries and is then ratified by 67 votes in a Senate that rejected Kyoto 95-0) is and always has been so cluelessly unrealistic as to be clinically insane. The experts decree; we rubes are not to think but to honor and obey.
It’s an excellent observation and speaks much to the idea of humility in the face of massive knowledge problems. But here is where I get queasy – am I, as an economist, also proclaiming expertise in the study of economics? And if so, by proclaiming that, as an expert, I urge that we must be humble in the face of massive knowledge problems (especially in a world where everyone has strong incentives to behave in a particular way), am I not falling prey to the idea I quoted above? Should I, as an expert, be listened to, or ignored? Should we convene a panel of experts on knowledge and information and listen to them? Are we in an infinite paradox here? Is it “turtles all the way down” as my old friend David Haddock likes to say?
If the answer is no, is it simply because the burden of proof ought to be on the party which seeks to abridge all manner of property rights and impose draconian solutions upon the world? Or is there a deeper methodological reason? What say you dear readers? Can we resolve this conundrum?