10 Jan Readers get a charge out of presidential critique
Editor’s note: This is the second of three articles on “Predictions for 2008.”
Chicago, Ill. – This is the second of what is now a three-part column. While many positive reader comments were received from last week’s column on presidential politics, I want to share a questionable one because it’s interesting to see how some people blindly follow and put their faith in “the experts.” In contrast, I have always written columns and taught people to question the experts and be skeptical.
My philosophy has always been: “There are no experts in this industry. The best you can be is a good student who’s always learning.” This applies to all areas. Those who continue to read and question the status quo are the ones who push the envelope. Someone who’s more impressed by east coast academic credentials and buys off on “the expert opinion” read last week’s column and wrote this:
I had a big laugh in reading your column today [on presidential candidate predictions]. You’re tilting at windmills just as commentators like you have been doing about politics for centuries (millennia?)
You should read the economist Bryan Caplan’s new book “The Myth of the Rational Voter.” It has all the answers you’ll ever need to satisfy your objections.
Here’s my response to him:
An economist has all the answers? You must be joking. Economists are as accurate as weathermen and probably more detrimental to the everyday events of the common man. I read through Caplan’s own executive summary. Who said economists are the “end-all experts?”
Do you have to have a doctorate in economics to understand the markets? Tell that to Ted Turner, a high school dropout, Sam Walton (Wal-Mart), or Warren Buffett (of Berkshire Hathaway). (I forgot to mention Bill Gates – a college dropout – when I sent him this).
I have seen too much in my career. Caplan needs to get out and work in the real world. This is a problem with full-time doctoral academics. They haven’t done this. They get their perspectives from charts and graphs. Life is more complex than charts.
A great example of economists being clueless was back in the early 1980s when they didn’t have a model to explain what was happening with the economy. I remember because I was sitting in a graduate economics class. Reality could not be explained by economic theory.
They were baffled that they couldn’t show a chart to explain what was really happening. In the meantime, there was a recession and mortgage interest was screaming at 18 percent.
My teaching philosophy – based on real-world experiences – is that there are no experts, and the best you can be is a good student who’s always learning. My writings try to get people to think and maybe go beyond what they normally analyze. While that might be a waste of time according to Caplan, it’s beneficial if I get even one person to understand more.
Your comment on my column more or less says: “Don’t question or challenge people to think. Just take the economist’s word of what’s good for the country.” I never taught people for the last two decades to be mindless sheep. I taught them to be leaders and question the status quo.
Read through his essay again and see how many times he quotes other people or comments about other people’s work. What has he done? Has he built a company? Has he become a billionaire on the stock market?
If you took any of my classes, you would be able to question what his real qualifications are and what he actually did before blindly accepting his word as gospel. Do I teach people how to be skeptics? Yes. Do I teach people how to see if experts really are experts? Yes. My background includes being an expert witness in civil and federal court.
I am paid to prove the experts wrong, and in doing that, I have become very skeptical of “experts.” By the way, my track record is 12 and zero. That includes going up against the phone companies three times and a Las Vegas casino on multimillion-dollar cases. You won’t find many people with that credential.
To quote George S. Patton: “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking. Watch what people are cynical about and one can often discover what they lack. We herd sheep, we drive cattle, and we lead people. Lead me, follow me or get out of my way.”
Maybe you should read more of my columns to balance your perspective. Perhaps you could write an e-mail to Caplan to question his real-world experience and not just his view from the proverbial Ivory Tower or his interpretation of a chart.
You learn a lot more in combat than you ever will looking at the battle map on the wall in an air-conditioned room miles away from the situation.
Keeping voters in the dark
After I sent that, I felt this: Let’s keep voters in the dark and only promote the theoretical assumptions of people in think tanks. They put out reports that are paid for by special interest groups that state they are the be-all, end-all interpreters of what people think. That is lunacy.
I did get a follow-up e-mail from this person who then apologized for his comments. Though he wrote a long dissertation that I can’t squeeze into the column, I’ve highlighted some of his comments:
It’s commendable for you to raise and discuss “important” political issues. Should the public and the media pay more attention to them, seek more information about them and ask tough questions of the candidates about them? You bet!
The reason it’s commendable for you to push these issues is that – as you state – you’d like people to be more informed and concerned about them so they make better political choices.
Will huge numbers of the non-enlightened public catch on and follow your advice? Not a chance. Caplan and the other “behavioral economists” are starting to realize it. It’s sad to say I have to report my perspective on some of the statements in your treatise.
“People want real answers today. They don’t want typical campaign rhetoric.” No they don’t and yes they do (except for those of you in the enlightened public sliver, of course).
“Candidates … are just pandering to whatever audience they get in front of to speak.” Yes, they are, and they’d be fools to do anything different.
“Instead of focusing on real issues, there’s too much spotlight on political fluff, religious backgrounds, and personal lives.” Of course there is and probably will forever continue to be thus. Don’t let this deter you from continuing to push for refocus.
“We need a real solution for illegal immigration. This issue impacts… agencies that must provide services that aren’t `free.’” Though I don’t know squat about economics, at least some economists state that the amount of contribution the illegals bring to the GDP considerably exceeds what they cost the U.S. in free services. While I may be wrong here, at least the two factors must be balanced before one can create a net benefit.
“Iowa doesn’t reflect any of the urban issues.” No argument there! [Reporters] are famous for grabbing onto anything that can stimulate the public. Psychologists have long since demonstrated that humans have a strong, built-in drive for novelty and stimulation, and good ‘ole Iowa is first. Being that Iowa is unrepresentative is immaterial to all of the media and most of the public.
My judgment is that you and Caplan are more in agreement than disagreement (again from my advantage of having read most of his book). I think you are right in your e-mail response to me that “Caplan needs to get out and work in the real world.”
My friend and I agree that he isn’t a particularly good writer and he takes torturously long to make points. Many academicians are like this. I have to give him credit, though: He has 55 pages of notes and references. As best as I can tell, the references are all to people on this planet.
After Iowa’s caucus and this weeks’s New Hampshire primary, I think more average people are coming out and being more concerned about their vote. Are they as expert as the economists with doctorates? They are when it comes to understanding their own situation. There is a huge disconnect when it comes to interpreting what’s happening on Wall Street, Main Street, and my street.
Next Article: 2008 Economy
Most people are concerned with their financial status, healthcare costs, and are mostly two or three paychecks away from catastrophe if they lose their job. Watch for next week’s observations and predictions.
Carlinism: You learn a lot more in combat than you ever will looking at the battle map on the wall in an air-conditioned room miles away from the situation.
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This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission.
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