Arrogance and Humility in the Governance of Human Interaction

A Reflection on Roger Koppl’s Expert Failure

Originally published in Cosmos and Taxis

Prevailing ideology holds that democracy is a system of government where people govern themselves. This ideology clashes with the unavoidable recognition that in any but small towns and villages governance is an activity wherein a few govern and the many are governed. This situation is an unavoidable feature of contemporary life with its elaborate and complex division of labor and knowledge. All of us are in the position of knowing a lot about a few things and little about most things. The central question Roger Koppl raises in Expert Failure is whether experts employ their expertise to the advantage of the general public or to the expert’s own advantage. Koppl advances strong reasons for being suspicious about the influence that experts exercise over the social organization of economic activity. In doing so, he brings us face-to-face with a perplexing conundrum: experts are indispensable, and yet operate within an environment that enables their biased use of that expertise.

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