New Paternalism on the Slippery Slopes, Part 5: Deference to Authority

by Glen Whitman

Another problem with the new paternalism is that it necessarily involves greater deference to the authority of experts. Here is the basic logic (p. 710):

Substantial deference to authority is inherent in the application of new paternalist ideas to public policy. This is because the complexities, vagueness, and indeterminism of their analysis (previously discussed) raise the costs of decision-making on the part of voters, politicians, and bureaucrats. The locus of effective decision-making will then quite reasonably shift to experts (“authorities”) or to simplifiers of technical ideas who may have agendas of their own. As Eugene Volokh puts it, “The more complicated a question seems, the more likely it is that voters will assume that they can’t figure it out themselves and should therefore defer to the expert judgment of authoritative institutions . . . .” There will thus be a tendency for policy to slide away from the values of the targeted agents themselves toward those of outsiders regarded as authorities. This happens in at least two ways. First, experts simplify their own theories to make them applicable in a policy context. Second, people seeking to advance their own interests will further simplify the theory and distort the facts to suit their purposes. Continue reading