Back in the 1950s, very few people got a voice to speak on important matters. There were a handful of TV stations with serious-sounding journalists like Walter Cronkite and Edward R Murrow. Scientists in white lab coats were revered as trusted figures of authority. And important sounding economists played with numbers while simultaneously the economy boomed. It was a magical time. And much of that magic rested on the idea that the people in charge could be trusted. News anchors, scientists, economists and senators could be trusted. Of course, when a group of people have unchecked trust, they will abuse that power.
Likewise, the trust of scientists often went unchecked and so a tiny group of scientists was able to sow doubt about the dangers of smoking and other environmental hazards.
However, the greatest danger to the public well-being comes not from a minority of experts abusing their power, it comes from the majority of experts being in consensus around a bad idea. Humans form cultures. Cultures bind and blind. Experts are a group of humans who are atomistically-focused on a tiny piece of the world. The less they focus on the more narrow-minded they become and quickly like the blind men and the elephant their conclusions can get worse over time.
This is exactly what has happened with economics. Adam Smith, the founding father of Capitalism, wrote two books: The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Adam Smith saw the elephant. Unfortunately, as the economist Russ Roberts points out in How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life, most economists don’t read both Smith’s books:
“While few people still read The Wealth of Nations, it’s undeniably a famous book, a classic. Fewer still read or have even heard of Smith’s other book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. For most of my career, I hadn’t read it either. That’s a bit awkward for an economist to confess. You’d think I would have read both major books by the founder of my field. But until recently, I knew very little about The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In fact, for most of my career, I never heard anyone mention Smith’s other book, the not-famous one, the weird one with the daunting title that didn’t sound like it had much to do with economics.”
As Russ Roberts goes onto explain, it turns out that Adam Smith’s other book has everything to do with economics: it’s about how humans actually behave. The Founding Father of Capitalism knew full well that there was a tension between humanity’s selfish and altruistic selves. He would never have approved of the Gordon Gekko view of capitalism. Greed is not good.
Adam Smith taught that self-interest is good. It is good for me to create a business that generates profit BUT not if I destroy the world in the process. The essence of Smith’s view of capitalism is captured in the story of the goose that laid the golden egg. You get the most golden eggs over the long term not by killing the goose and ripping out all the golden eggs. You get the most golden eggs by taking care of the goose so it lays golden eggs over the longterm. Gordon Gekko’s Greed is Good doctrine gets you to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Capitalism as laid out by its Founding Father is tending the goose so it lays golden eggs indefinitely.
Of course, why should you believe what a tutor like me has to say about economics? That’s a good question. After all, there is a whole field of PhDs in economics that your culture has taught you to trust. And yet, there is a profound irony here: Adam Smith was a tutor.
- Capitalism was founded by a tutor who wrote two books.
- I am a tutor who has read both those books.
- Most economists have not read both books.
Who should you trust to speak about how to create an economy that produces prosperity? The more you look into what the experts have actually been up to all this time the more you’ll learn that the answer is in the X-files. Humans want to believe. Maybe not in UFOs but in our society’s fairness, our own future chances for prosperity and in the people we entrust with authority.
However, all power must be checked, including intellectual power. Newscasters, scientists, economists and elected officials must all be held accountable.
Of course, individually, it’s a daunting amount of information to check. There are 60 million scientific papers. 130 million books. 6000 languages. It’s a huge amount of info. And yet, if 7.5 billion people can’t get through all that info, then you can be damn sure a handful of experts can’t. Apparently, the experts in economics couldn’t even manage to get through the TWO books of their founder.
And this is where the Jobocalypse gets interesting. Robots, AI and software are taking away routine work information is becoming more easily available and those of us who read widely are finding we often know more than the people with the fancy pieces of paper that cost a lot of money. The world is realizing that those educations that cost $250,000 can be had for a few dollars in library fees. Actually, you don’t even need to pay those late library fees. Mixed Mental Arts and many other websites are aiming to break those ideas down for no money in less time. Experts cost more to hire and they are often less educated. Which would you choose?
How do you do this? Well, you have #ideasex. You bring together ideas that have never existed before. And that is something that is actually waaaaaaay easier to do outside of a university. There’s no one to tell you what you can or can’t study. There’s no territory. There’s only exploration. In practice, saying experts are specialized is another way of saying they’re narrow-minded. When Katie O’Brien and I wrote The Straight-A Conspiracy, we brought together seven fields of neuroscience.
Occasionally, we get asked if we’re qualified to write such a book. The truth is: NO ONE IS. By the norms of the culture of W.E.I.R.D. Science, we’d have to have gotten seven PhDs. We’d have to have taken 49 years to be qualified to write the book we already wrote. It was easier for us to pull the research together, package the book we knew kids needed and let it speak for itself. Mixed Mental Arts pulls together WAAAAAAAY more fields and will continue to keep pulling in more. As we drive the I.Q Revolution, the results of what we’re doing will increasingly speak for themselves. Wikipedia revealed that humanity’s superpower means the crowd is way smarter than individual experts. The age of the experts is over and painful as the transition is we’ll all be better off for it in the end. How do you like them apples?