Is Obama's Faith in Experts Misplaced?

By Joshua Green

In Sunday's New York Times, Frank Rich joins the chorus (i.e., me) pointing out that President Obama's overweening faith in expert opinion--such as his unfortunate contention just before the BP catastrophe that offshore oil drilling is safe--is perhaps a bit too strong:

The plugging of an uncontrollable oil leak, like the pacification of an intractable Afghanistan, may be beyond the reach of marathon brainstorming by brainiacs, even if the energy secretary is a Nobel laureate. Obama has yet to find a sensible middle course between blind faith in his own Ivy League kind and his predecessor's go-with-the-gut bravado.

A number of critics have essentially replied, "Harrumph, you'd prefer he listen to idiots?" Well, no. Of course not. I'm no more a fan of the Bush-consults-God approach to presidential decision making than Rich is, and if those were the only choices I'd choose Obama. The point is that while expert opinion is valuable, it is not infallible. I'd add that it's particularly likely to be flawed as it pertains to the notion that industry can safely self-regulate or that government regulators can always be relied upon. After eight years of administration hostility toward all things regulatory, I'd bet the SEC and MMS aren't the only agencies with problems.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/06/is-obamas-faith-in-experts-misplaced/57772/