There was a time when modern liberals were just as concerned as conservatives (though not quite as concerned as libertarians) about the power of the administrative state. Every thinking person who watched the growth of government during the 20th century realized that the gain of power went almost entirely to the unelected, irresponsible makers and “implementers” of administrative policies and regulations. Yet both the public and the politicians proved incapable of foreseeing the inevitable results, which were disasters small and large.
This was especially notable in regard to the work of “experts” who, qualified by guild membership to operate on the public at large, were invited to exercise their skills without let or hindrance. It took a while, but eventually people noticed that:
- Experts on “defense” had created ceaseless wars, and lost virtually all of them.
- Experts on “finance” had produced a Wall Street boom, a moratorium on profits from ordinary savings, and a national debt of $30,000,000,000,000.
- Experts on “the economy” had enriched the rich, impoverished the poor, and made the middle class run faster, faster, faster to stay in the same place.
- Experts on “housing” had built monstrosities so ugly and so dangerous to inhabit that they had to be removed by dynamite.
Both the public and the politicians proved incapable of foreseeing the inevitable results, which were disasters small and large.
- Experts on “urban renewal” had demolished historic cities.
- Experts on “drugs” had created a war on marijuana, of all things, that continued for a century, devastating countless lives.
- Experts on “the environment” had ruined the national parks and forests, destroyed whole industries and the communities supported by them, vastly increased the cost of every aspect of daily life, and threatened to forbid virtually every form of human activity that might ever leave a “footprint.”
- And, last but not least, experts on “public health” had destroyed trillions of dollars of wealth, millions of jobs, hundreds of thousands of lives, and millions of years of children’s education in a feckless attempt to eliminate a B-list virus.
Gosh, we didn’t see that one coming. Or that one or that one.
Well, a few of us did.
And a few people understood what the problem was. I’m not referring to the obvious fact that many of the “experts” weren’t experts in anything but some ideology they’d picked up in grad school, something that, a generation later, would be casually dismissed by the same grad school as “an idea we used to have.” The deep, though not profound, problem was a lack of perspective.
It’s true that people shouldn’t have rats in their buildings, that there are bad, aggressive countries in the world, that people do better when they’re not dependent on drugs, that prisons are often terrible places, that air pollution is highly undesirable. Real experts can show you arrays of facts about such things. But that doesn’t mean we should do what an expert who has only one problem in mind says that we should do. We shouldn’t tear down the neighborhood, ban all recreational drugs, go to war with any and all oppressive states, abolish prisons, or end the use of cars. That would be a lack of perspective. But experts, even real experts, are not paid for having perspective. They are paid for digging into their field of research, or pontification. If you ask me, as an expert on the history of English literature, whether everyone should take a class on that subject, I will answer, qua expert, “Yes, of course. What could be more important than that?” Well, a lot of things.
Once I get involved with the state, the great and powerful though blind creator of priorities, look out!
This is all very amusing, so long as I’m not granted unquestioned power to implement my priorities, which should, of course, become the priorities of any civilized society. But once I get involved with the state, the great and powerful though blind creator of priorities, look out! You’ll study George Eliot, and like it.
A definitive illustration of the evils of imperial expertise has now appeared. One of the state’s chief demolition experts has gone on record to assert what they all assume, which is the omnipotence of the “experts.” In the mind, if you want to call it that, of Dr. Anthony Fauci, an expert, if you want to call him that, on contagious diseases, it is shocking and unprecedented and wholly wiggly and abhorrent that a federal judge should actually have read the statute under which the Centers for Disease Control required tens of millions of air travelers to wear masks on their faces, month after month, year after year, long after the evidence showed that masks do nothing except clog your respiratory system — and that this judge should actually have voided the CDC’s directives, with the odd excuse that they were not authorized by the statute.
To Fauci, this was an incomprehensible assault on science, health, and the American way. On April 22, we are told,
the White House’s chief medical adviser told CBS’s Robert Costa that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should be the arbiter of public health decisions, not the courts. Fauci said the mask mandate was “not a judicial matter. . . . One of the problems we have there is the principle of a court overruling a public health judgement . . . is disturbing in the precedent that it might send.”
Fauci was on a tear; he even showed up on the dreaded Fox News, telling Neil Cavuto that it is a “bad precedent when decisions about public health issues are made by people, be they judges or what have you, that don’t have experience or expertise in public health.”
Yes, what a bad precedent! With such precedents for reading the law and the Constitution before we grant omnipotence to bureaucrats, we may not be permitted to enjoy a world in which experts who like bikes build roads to accommodate only bikes, in which traffic engineers mandate cars that won’t start if they think you’ve had a drink, in which health protectors confine you to your quarters at the first hint of something that might make you sick, in which urban designers make sure you won’t be allowed to live in a wasteful one-family home, in which school employees teach whatever they want to teach, because, after all, they’re teachers. We may all miss our chance to exist in a world without choice or motion, perspective or life.