I have no definitive answer. I supposed it depends on what the expert is expert on and what nostrums he proposes to solve the crisis (and there’s always a crisis) on which he’s the purported expert.
On the rare occasion I stupefy myself with the crisis-of-the-day critiques on offer at the cable-news outlets, I infer that these outlets would be woefully bereft of content without experts. The banter between the manicured fanboy and the pencil-skirted eye candy never seems to rise above entry-level generalizations, and how far can you run with that?
A peculiarity – one that stirs in me neither an eye-roll nor a groan, though a dismissive sigh – arises on occasion: One expert gushes admiringly on the smarts of another expert, whereupon the expert gushed upon reciprocates, probably on a tangential topic and at another time, on the expert who gushed so profusely upon him (or her). If the image of two frat boys leaning into each other and holding on for mutual support after a game of quarters comes to mind, well, join the writer.)
I also notice these go-to experts are frequently experts in areas of little value to those of us scratching a living from a market economy. Most are experts in the grand-sweeping macro fields immune to the consequences of being habitually wrong (and they are habitually wrong, as Cal-Berkeley Prof. Philip Tetlock has proven time and again). The fields usually cover economics, meteorology (so climate change), political science, sociology, psychology, or something else soft and malleable that invokes models as opposed to physical results for confirmation. I have also noticed that most of the experts are employed by employers shielded from the uncertainty of consumer demand: academia, think tanks, the government, GSOs.
I suppose they are smart and clever. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Most are credentialed and degreed by the more prestigious universities. But to be smart and clever in fields of dubious value leaves me underwhelmed. I’m more impressed by the layman with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from a tertiary directional state school than an expert with s PhD in gender studies from an Ivy League university. The former at least offers the potential to further material well-being. The latter exists only to perpetuate his kind. If he can undermine the culture with unverifiable musings, he’s all the more successful.
I have also noticed that what’s smart and clever centers on what’s expedient. Let’s get it done now. We’ll concern ourselves with the consequences later, if at all. I’ll concede that politicians are fiendishly smart and clever with expediency. They are masters of exploiting the obvious – that being the dearth of cognitive ability among the constituents. (I suppose politicians are doubly smart and clever by continually supporting, even praising, the great perpetuators of the dearth – government-paid educators.) They repeatedly exploit the dearth to their advantage. Consider the latest exploitation – the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.”
A cursory glance at the bullet points teased from the reams of Faulknerarian verbiage that constitutes this bill reveals a homage to crony capitalism, regulation, taxes, and tyranny. Only by gaslighting to the point of insanity with the-sun-actually-rises-in-the-west reasoning would a logical person possibly think the bill has a prayer of reducing inflation. There are numbers, to be sure, and people view numbers as fact. Never mind that time and again numbers applied to government projections are always fiction. No need to bother, though, because who thinks logically? Who thinks? The powers of ratiocination having been excised by those glorious government-paid educators.
And why would we need an inflation reduction act if that’s what it actually did?
Ah, yes, to counter the consequences of previous expeditious acts the smart, clever experts in Washington D.C. and Harvard told us we needed. The experts of 2020 demanded we shut down the economy, grind to a halt toot suite. To counter the financial and economic devastation that expedient act produced, the Federal Reserve cranked up the printing press. At the start of 2020, $4.0 trillion dollars were in circulation. At the start of 2021, the number had increased to $6.7 trillion. By October 2021, the number had tripled to $20.8 trillion.
What could go wrong? What could possibly go wrong?
Nothing, so the experts assured. Well, nothing if you think 40-year high consumer-price inflation, rising wage inflation, rising interest rates, a bear market, stock market volatility, sluggish economic growth are nothing wrong. And these are the things we can measure with reasonable statistical accuracy. What about the things we can’t measure with reasonable statistical accuracy: depression, ennui, drug and alcohol abuse, resentment, moral hazard? Oh, well.
The smartest guy in the room usually underwhelms me. They’re not always mutually exclusive, but I find that an abundance of smarts is frequently offset by a deficit of wisdom.
(A side bar: I remember, though imperfectly, something smart and clever from a few years ago. The Keynesian crowd was apoplectic because of a perceived lack of consumer spending. One Keynesian, I want to remember an economics professor at Harvard, though he could have been a professor from another smart-infused Ivy League university, asked his students what they would do to stimulate consumer spending. One smart, terribly clever, probably 1600-SAT-scoring student suggested that dollars whose ID number ended in a specific number be rendered worthless. I don’t remember if the number would be known ahead of time, so you’d be sure to spend it, or if it was a lottery draw where the dollar would be rendered worthless instantaneously so that you would be motivated to spend all your dollars. Smart because the solution was expedient. It would have certainly stimulated spending.)
Forget clean water, clean air, natural resources, food, land, or anything else of the material world, if we are short on anything, it’s wisdom. The smart man focuses on what’s expedient, the wise man focuses on the unseen, delayed consequences of an action that will likely arise based on the empirical evidence gleaned from knowledge confirmed over the millennia – the fact that human nature is immutable.
Frederic Bastiat explicated the difference between smart and wise as good as anyone with his Broken Window Fallacy.
A cobbler’s window is shattered by an errant rock. The smart observer, say our alert D.C politician orour tenured Harvard prof, conjures a windfall for the local economy. The window will need to be replaced. This creates work and income for the glazer. The glazer, in turn, spends his income at a restaurant. The restaurant owner, with his increased income, buys a new pair of shoes from the cobbler. Destruction is no longer an economic curse, it’s an economic blessing. (The line of reasoning is less absurd than you might think, and I do hope you think it’s absurd. This is no different from the war-is-stimulus assertions of many economists.)
The wise observer sees reality through his jaundiced-eyed lens. The glazer is out the cost of the repair. The glazer is forced to spend money on a window that he values less than other products and service. Perhaps our glazer would have preferred to spend the money on a new shirt and roses for his wife. Now, the merchant and the florist are out their income.
But what if the glazer had insurance? Okay, now the insurance company is out the money. Money it could have used to pay its owners, which they could have used to buy what they valued. Perhaps they were keen to expand the business.
The wise observer takes it to an even higher level. To be forced to spend money on things valued less is a psychological loss in addition to a monetary loss. What if the rock through the window was a malicious act. Perhaps the incident foreshadows an onerous trend. Instead of fixing the window, the cobbler decides instead to close shop and leave town. The community loses a business it valued. Perhaps the local government losses a revenue source. Perhaps other business owners ape the cobbler, and they, too, decide to get while the getting is good.
Heeding the possible, if not probable, “unseens” that arise from an action is what the wise man does. The man only smart (and smart and wise need not be mutually exclusive, though they frequently are) sees only the immediate benefit, ignoring the long-tail inevitable costs (and benefits).
In two years, maybe four, don’t be surprised if another bill arises, perhaps the $500 billion “Green Energy Stimulus Act of 2026” that is needed to bail out the solar and EV companies ruined by over investment and excessive competition that arose because of the foolish incentives and freebies offered by the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.” My poor soothsaying skills prevent me from specifying the costly particulars that will arise from the latest transfer of wealth, but be assured they will arise.
Smart and expedient have their time and place under the right circumstances. Your blood pressure is brain-bursting high. You’re smart and driven by urgency, so you wisely consult your doctor. Your smart doctor is expedient. He prescribes Lisinopril, or some such oddly named medication, to lower the pressure immediately.
But are you wise?
If you rely only on the smart, expedient solution to restore your health, you’ll probably die sooner than later. High pressure is the product of a poor diet and lifestyle – the long-tail things the wise consider. The wise person will change his diet and lifestyle to capture the long-term benefits and lower blood pressure associated with a salubrious diet and lifestyle. Obesity stats show the majority fail to transcend smart.
Which is no surprise. The majority fail to transcend on most aspects of life.