Voters Never Will Be Experts | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's note: This article appeared on John Hood's daily column in the Carolina Journal, which, because of Author / Publisher Hood, is linked to the John Locke Foundation.

    I have strong opinions - but not about how to perform brain surgery, write a smart-phone app, design a golf course, or produce a hip hop album. Perhaps you do have a strong view about one of these, but almost certainly not about all four.

    Why? Because none of us can simultaneously be a surgeon, a software engineer, a golfing expert, and a music producer. When it comes to our work, we specialize in a few things and then trade the goods and services we produce for the goods and services that other specialists produce. The exchange makes us all better off.

    We live most of our lives engaged in such exchanges. There is a great deal of specialized knowledge, with more of it being produced every single day. But individually, we possess or are even aware of only a tiny fraction of that knowledge. It would be too difficult or costly to acquire. We don't need it. We just need to trade for its fruits.

    Among specialists or other discrete communities of interest, however, there is often robust debate. Surgeons learn, practice, and disagree about the merits of new ways to attack brain cancers. The rest of us don't typically know which side to root for in these contests. We just root for them to keep at it, so we as potential cancer patients can benefit, and otherwise leave them alone as we go about our own business.

    Now consider what happens when goods and services are provided by government agencies and public employees rather than private companies and independent professionals. Suddenly, we all feel the need to express our expert opinions about the best ways to rehabilitate a prisoner, treat a mental illness, or teach a child to read - even though we can't possibly possess expertise about so many different and challenging fields, and even those possessing such expertise may lack consensus.

    The problem is that, unlike in the earlier cases, we can't simply sit back and let the professionals fight it out. If we don't like a new smart-phone app or hip hop album, we don't have to buy it. If a particular brain surgeon or hospital seems to have poor results, we can go elsewhere.

    But what if we don't like the outcomes produced by our prisons, public health agencies, or public schools? It's either impossible or highly expensive to "take our business elsewhere," as it were, by relocating ourselves and our tax dollars to another state. Instead, we seek to change the mix of professionals providing those services by casting ballots in the next election.

    This is not nearly as effective an accountability mechanism. For one thing, we may be outvoted. Even if our preferred candidates win, they may not be in a position to swap out the personnel in question or overrule their professional judgments. And through it all, we end up doing the very thing I'm suggesting we lack the capacity to do well - engaging in debate about matters we don't and can't fully understand.

    There is no magic wand one can wave here. Ensure more competitive elections? Great. Collect more data and encourage more experimentation and research? Sure. But the problem will remain in some form. It is endemic.

    I submit that the best response is to minimize the extent to which people are compelled to receive services from professionals they don't select. That argues for more choice and competition in education, health care, and transportation, even when those services are substantially funded by governments. The next best thing is for governments to pay for measurable performance, by public or private providers, rather than focusing on inputs or dictating procedures.

    More fundamentally, this argues for limiting the scope of the public sector. In fact, I think it's one of the best arguments for limited government. Although you may care and worry about me as a person, it does you no harm if I have a wrong idea, do a foolish thing, or hire an incompetent doctor. You can even learn from my mistakes.
Go Back

Leave a Guest Comment

Your Name or Alias
Your Email Address ( your email address will not be published)
Enter Your Comment ( no code or urls allowed, text only please )

Women for Trump Announces Leadership Team Carolina Journal, Editorials, Op-Ed & Politics Youthful Entrepreneurs Show Wares at Children's Business Fair


Latest Op-Ed & Politics

Francesca Albanese was banned from Israel and condemned by French and American officials for her comments
The retrial on bribery and fraud charges for former top NC political donor Greg Lindberg has been delayed to April or May 2024. It had been scheduled for November.
Former President Donald Trump ripped his former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Monday after she has shifted to attacking his age ahead of this week’s presidential primary in New Hampshire.
A local conservative man was struck by a sudden feeling of dread while checking out his annual "Year in Review" notification from Spotify, believing he would be horribly embarrassed if the knowledge of how prominently Taylor Swift featured in the list were to be obtained
The United States and United Kingdom launched multiple airstrikes against Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists in Yemen on Monday as the terror group continues to launch attacks on merchant ships in international waters around the Arabian Peninsula.
Please find today’s turnout numbers for our first day of early voting.


A Thursday morning hearing made it clear that Fulton County DA Fani Willis’ case against former President Donald Trump may be in serious jeopardy — and the direct testimony of her special prosecutor Nathan Wade, to whom Willis has been romantically linked, appears to have only made things worse.
“Squad” member Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) accused Walgreens of racism after the company closed a pharmacy in her district.
Members of the Pendleton family are reported to have been in a state of emergency since 8:37 this morning, the moment Grandma learned how to "like" text messages.
The game between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers became the most watched Super Bowl ever after bringing in more than 123 million viewers on Sunday.
Governor Cooper and NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley Joined Doctors, Advocates and New Beneficiaries at Enrollment Fair in Charlotte


Multiple people were shot and at least one was killed when gunfire erupted at a parade celebrating the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl win this week.


Back to Top