The brilliance of some people shines through in everything they say and do, but what we think is brilliant depends on our own perspectives, inclinations, and assumptions. Advanced college degrees, even from prestigious universities, do not impart any ultimate truth to the degree holders. They only certify that the graduates have absorbed enough of the biases of those under whom they have studied to convince a panel that they are worthy. That is not to say that college degrees are not useful or worthwhile. They certainly are. They are indications that the degree holder has a certain baseline of knowledge and has accumulated an arsenal of tools to help make some sense of the world and the way things work. Still, everyone is filled with the prejudices of those people whose work was most influential on their academic and personal development.
Since there is a tremendous variation of opinion among college professors and professional practitioners in every field of endeavor, it is obvious that they can't all be right in their opinions and insights, especially when their beliefs are in direct opposition. Even the esteemed Nobel Prize is not an indicator of truth. Some Prize winners hold to beliefs which conflict with those of other Nobel laureates. In at least one notable case, the 1974 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, the award was shared by two people who held exactly opposing views: Gunnar Myrdal, who was a staunch supporter of socialist central planning, and Freidrich Hayek, who viewed socialism as the road to serfdom and whose writing and teaching pointed to markets and decentralization as the way to progress. While they both made contributions to the economics profession, their versions of reality cannot both be true. One is mutually exclusive of the other. The Nobel does not impart truth or goodness or rightness. It only means that the laureates impressed the panel in some way with their academic work and credentials.
When it comes to politics, the problem with academic points of view is that those people who support the politicians and their ambitions are the ones who get favored treatment. Thus, whether the field is economics, climatology, sociology, or any other field of study, those who go along with politicians' desire for bigger government and more power get the funding and find their way onto presidential cabinets, powerful administrative posts, and influential advisory positions. Many professions are finding their credibility fizzling because the things that those with influence propose and energetically promote have been dead wrong in so many instances. It is encouraging that many people are wising up to snake oil salesmen who use advanced degrees as proof of their wisdom, truthfulness, and goodness, while promoting programs that hobble society and hurt so many people.
A significant portion of the population assumes that it is necessary to get smart people into positions of power, because they need to make choices for millions of people. While intelligence is always good when making decisions, that assumption ignores an entire branch of the decision-making process. Tacit knowledge is that which is implicit, unspoken, and not subject to explicit description and articulation. Tacit knowledge is the reason that many trades and professions have periods of apprenticeship or internship. It is firsthand knowledge not attainable without direct observation or involvement. Local knowledge is that which is knowable and relevant only in a particular geographic area. Local conditions give a host of advantages and disadvantages to the inhabitants, conditions such as climate, weather, economy, culture, age, and education level.
A Washington bureaucrat, no matter how smart and educated, cannot make a decision which fits the needs of everyone in a tiny Arizona desert town of 200 people and also fits the needs of everyone is a cosmopolitan metro area with millions of individuals with widely divergent interests, assumptions and goals. A central planner cannot take the tacit and local knowledge of 300 million people into account. Not only is it impossible to have the necessary knowledge, but it is impossible to make the right decision for everyone at the same time. A centralized decision can only be an average decision, which means that it is the wrong one for the vast majority of people.
The growing dislocation in society is the result of replacing critical tacit and local knowledge and individual choice with academic knowledge and centralized decisions. It distorts incentives and promotes special-interest extortion and influence peddling. It's not smart, it's not truth, and it's not in the interest of people or society.
Dan McLaughlin is a columnist for The Post-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.