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Expertise Is Not A Transferrable Asset

Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Has anybody ever noticed the annoying tendency of experts to claim knowledge in areas outside of their purview? Because academia is so specialized, I see a lot less of this among university faculty, with the glaring exception of economists. In day-to-day life, however, people (usually men) who have gotten used to winning arguments on their chosen field begin poaching in others. Millionaire businessmen are the worst offenders, as they fall prey to the false and invalid syllogism that:
1) money is a universal signal of success
2) success is due to knowledge
3) I have lots of money
4) therefore, I have lots of universal knowledge.

I'm not here to criticize the well-heeled, however. No, it's Charlie Cook that has earned my ire. One of the nation's best-informed election analysts, his most recent column makes the claim that both liberals and conservatives are unwilling to confront the realities of the deficit. According to Charlie, liberals don't accept that a reduction in the deficit will require spending cuts, while conservatives don't accept that a reduction in the deficit will require tax increases. I'll set aside the manifest truths that conservatives a) only care about deficits when they're in the minority and b) don't ever want to increase taxes on the wealthy (they're much more flexible about taxing the poor).

It is, of course, in describing the position of liberals that Charlie gets it wrong. The truth is that liberals are in favor of cutting spending where it will do some good, in both defense spending and (gasp) entitlement spending in the form of restraining the growth of health care costs. A glance at CBO projections and simple arithmetic demonstrates that it is health care and defense costs that are causing structural deficits. And I'll even provide some cover to both camps by reminding the good Mr. Cook that the chief cause of the cyclical deficit is the recession, and that cutting spending in a time of weakened aggregate demand is a wonderful way to further depress the economy and hence expand the size of the deficit.

Why does Charlie Cook get such elementary facts wrong? I don't want to accuse him of the sin of false equivalence by searching for bad liberals to balance bad conservatives - I don't have to. Beyond this lamentable beltway habit, Charlie is doing what most pundits do, and what I did as a 20-year old ignorant but very loud know-it-all that: holding forth on things about which he knows nothing. I'd like to think that I can forgive my previous incarnation, since it was a long time ago and I only annoyed by acquaintances. Unfortunately Charlie is someone that policymakers and opinion leaders listen to, and should listen to, but not about economics and budgeting, where he quite clearly is out of his depth.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:44 PM
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