Best Books of 2019: Expert Failure by Roger Koppl


Review of Expert Failure by Roger Koppl.

Koppl uses the role of experts to explain the difference between approaching social problems from the top down versus from the bottom up. Koppl defines an expert as anyone who is paid for their opinion. This is not tied to any credential, degree, affiliation, or any objective measure of knowledge. If someone sees fit to pay you for your opinion on something, you’re an expert on that something. For Koppl, experts play a crucial role in the economy and in the political process. But they should not be given too much power.

One way to do this is through competition. Experts should not be given a monopoly or any guild-like structure that limits competition. Certifications and credentials are useful, and they rightfully impact an expert’s perceived credibility. But they should not be mandatory—schooling and education are often very different things. Allowing an open competitive process in markets for experts will help the fields evolve the best way to signal credibility, and as knowledge and professional consensus evolve, send out the old in favor of the new. This brings to mind the saying about science advancing one funeral at a time.

Koppl also offers a quality intellectual history not just of expertise from a bottom-up perspective, but the entire spontaneous order tradition, from Bernard “Fable of the Bees” Mandeville’s cynicism to Adam Smith’s idealism, to Hayek’s wide-ranging advancements in emergent order theory. Not the easiest read, but sticking with it pays large dividends.