Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Amateurs Beat Professionals

Thomas Sowell is looking at one of the most glaring and obvious places in our society where amateurs beat professionals. Education.

When amateurs outperform professionals, there is something wrong with that profession.

If ordinary people, with no medical training, could perform surgery in their kitchens with steak knives, and get results that were better than those of surgeons in hospital operating rooms, the whole medical profession would be discredited.

Yet it is common for ordinary parents, with no training in education, to homeschool their children and consistently produce better academic results than those of children educated by teachers with Master's degrees and in schools spending upwards of $10,000 a year per student-- which is to say, more than a million dollars to educate ten kids from K through 12.

Nevertheless, we continue to take seriously the pretensions of educators who fail to educate, but who put on airs of having "professional" expertise beyond the understanding of mere parents.
Now it is obvious why home schoolers beat the professionals. First is motivation. Second is tailoring the product to the customer. The professionals are hampered by rules and directives. The amateur need only get results.

He then ties that into the knowledge problem in economics. The problem of central planners.
...central planners in the days of the Soviet Union had to set over 24 million prices. Nobody is capable of setting and changing 24 million prices in a way that will direct resources and output in an efficient manner.

For that, each of the 24 million prices would have to be weighed and set against each of the other 24 million prices. in order to provide incentives for resources to go where they were most in demand by producers and output to go where it was most in demand by consumers.

In a market economy, however, nobody has to take on such an impossible task. Each producer and each consumer need only be concerned with the relatively few prices relevant to their own decisions, with coordination of the economy being left to supply and demand.

In short, amateurs were able to outperform professionals in the economy because the amateurs did not take on tasks beyond the capability of any human being or any manageable group of human beings.

Put differently, "expertise" includes only a small band of knowledge out of the vast spectrum of knowledge required for dealing with many real world complications.
In other words it doesn't matter that central planners are geniuses and the population is a bunch of morons. No one genius or even group of geniuses can know as much as a million morons.

The Brits have a wonderful saying about just such problems: "too smart by half". Or stated another way - it is the problem of smart people thinking they know more than they know just because they are much smarter than most people. It doesn't matter. If they apply their smarts to a broad enough domain they can never be smart enough.

So the upshot is: let supply and demand sort out distribution. Or as I said on another forum: the problem with stealing is that it short circuits the productive system. It doesn't matter if the thief is a guy down the block or the Government in Washington DC. It short circuits the productive system.

Which gets us back to the importance of private property. The poor shouldn't steal from the rich and the rich shouldn't steal from the poor. It short circuits the productive system.

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