Columbia University historian Mark Lilla does a short Q&A in this week’s New York Times book review.
[T]here’s another factor, I think, and that is the centrality of economic policy to our politics today, and its inherent complexity. Though wars are complicated things, it’s not hard to develop a defensible position about their legitimacy or illegitimacy. But you need to know a fair amount about finance to make any sense, for example, of the bank collapses and bailouts of 2008-9 and the stimulus that followed. Very few people have that, but in a democracy everyone is supposed to have an opinion about everything. Everyone’s opinion is supposed to matter; you shouldn’t need higher education to chime in. But on economic policy you do. This opens the field to charlatans who demonize educated elites and reassure people that “it’s really all very simple.”
The emphasis is mine.
Though I agree that there certainly are many charlatans who demonize educated elites and have simple (and almost surely mistaken) answers to complex questions, I find that, on matters of social science, many people think they know more than they actually do (because hey, they live in society!) and are prone to dismiss experts as ideological hacks.
I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had with relatives about gas prices during which I inevitably hear about how “greedy” gas companies are because the price of gas often increases during long weekends or during holiday periods.
When I try to explain that the real reason why gas gets more expensive during long weekends and holiday periods is presumably because more people travel during long weekends, which shifts the demand for gasoline to the right, which in turn raises both the equilibrium price and quantity, those same relatives won’t have it: “No, those gas companies are really greedy. They didn’t need to raise their prices!,” with the subtext almost always being: “Why are you always so ideological?”
Sure, the gas companies didn’t need to raise prices. But why wouldn’t they? Isn’t profit-maximization the objective of any firm?
Generally, I find it fascinating how many people are quick to dismiss experts as ideological hacks. And though social scientists are more likely to be treated as such than scientists, there are people who think evolution or climate change are liberal hoaxes.
See also: Dunning-Kruger effect, which Wikpedia defines as the “cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.