Is the public incompetent? Compared to whom? about what?

Gerald Gaus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


From Mill to, most recently, Bryan Caplan, political and economic elites have been seen as the solution to the public's ignorance and incompetence. In order to show that elites are actually more competent than the public, however, we would have to find out what type of knowledge is necessary to enact good public policy. The empirical evidence shows that economic experts have a slight advantage over the general public in knowledge of how to achieve policy goals. But, contrary to Caplan, the evidence indicates that economists don't possess significant predictive knowledge, and that general economic laws are of little help in predicting the magnitude of the effects of a specific policy in a multi-variable, complex world. When we adopt a more complex understanding of the reasons behind policy choice, and consider rules and principles in addition to goal pursuit, the slight edge of economic experts evaporates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-311
Number of pages21
JournalCritical Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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