Bailout Question: Is This the Time for Mass Movements or Expert Opinion?

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Nate Silver takes one side:

I’m sorry, but somewhere between 99.9% and 99.999999% of us are severely underqualified to be making policy recommendations on [the financial industry bailout]. And I’m certainly in the majority on this one… This is neither the time nor the place for mass movements — this is the time for expert opinion. Once the experts (and I’m not one of them) have reached some kind of a consensus about what the best course of action is (and they haven’t yet), then figure out who is impeding that action for political or other disingenuous reasons and tackle them — do whatever you can to remove them from the playing field.

And David Sirota takes the other:

The big flaw in [Silver’s] rationale, of course, is the entire concept of “expert opinion.” What exactly is “expert opinion?” That term usually refers to the Very Serious People the Establishment and Media Say Are Experts – that is, people like the Wall Street CEOs in front of Congress and people like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner – all who had direct hands in destroying the economy. Silver – incredibly – would have us simply wait for this “expert opinion” to tell us what to do, without any regard for the fact that this “expert opinion” is exactly what got us into the situation we’re in.

I think both Silver and Sirota are right, and wrong.

I acknowledge that people that this country treated as all-knowing titans of finance (Wall Street CEOs, high-level government officials, deregulating senators) led us into a ditch. But I also acknowledge that other people who are also experts disagreed with them as they did so, and have different recommendations than they do now. I further acknowledge that I know less about finance than any of them.

I also acknowledge that both good and bad ideas can come from a single person or set of people. When Geithner says that his TARP II program is the best way to rejuvenate the credit markets and bring stability to the financial industry, I’m inclined to give him his fair shot. Knowing how to make complex things work is the upside of being an elite expert.

But when Geithner fights to keep executive compensation limits to a minimum, I don’t give him the same benefit of the doubt. Trying to protect members of the privileged overclass (aka your buddies) is the downside of being an elite expert.

So if you’re a member of the blogosphere or the progressive movement, here’s how I suggest you think about expert opinion. (1) Recognize your own shortcomings. We’re entitled to our opinions on the economy, for example, but if we can’t predict the long-term financial fallout of implementing them, we have to acknowledge that. (2) Find people with an established track record whose values you trust. Use their knowledge to fill in the gaps in your understanding. (3) Remain skeptical of those in power; they seek to protect their position and the position of those around them. Raise hell where your knowledge and your instincts signal to you that something is amiss, and where your lack of knowledge is not in danger of leading you astray.

This doesn’t mean that everyone gets a seat at the policy-making table. ExxonMobil shouldn’t be a part of our national conversation on energy policy. Lobbying firms for the health care industry poison the debate over health care. People who argue for a proposal exclusively because the adoption of that proposal serves their bottom line or the bottom line of their clients can be dismissed. But experts and everyday people, if they are acting in good faith, must all be part of the argument; the country’s interest is probably served worse if either of them dominate.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate