The Tyranny of Experts and Restraints on Government

Tyranny Of Experts

The ‘Tyranny of Experts’ posits a vital question; what makes some nations poor and others wealthy? The author explores how two famous economists, Friedrich Hayek and Gunnar Myrdal, drew vastly different conclusions to this question. In this episode, we explore how this relates to the role of government in people’s lives.


The book opens with a twist.  Easterly describes how soldiers take over an American town and burn it to the ground. We find out that even though this is a true story, it did not happen in the USA at all. It actually happened in Uganda, Africa.

International organizations like the World Bank see poverty as stemming from a lack of expertise. As an example, a failing farm is the result of poor soil. To fix the problem requires expertise.  As a result, their mandate is largely about solving technical problems in third world countries. The idea is that if you solve the technical, it leads to economic growth.


Organizations like the World Bank refrain from using words like democracy as to not fan the flames. In The Tyranny of Experts, the author explains that it’s the lack of rights that is causing the issue of poverty and so it  cannot simply be solved by technical means. By being given rights and using trial and error, individuals would be able to find solutions.

When you look at the research, you can make a case that free market gives you better outcomes. Health care for example, even though it may not be able to cover everyone, it can give you much higher quality care for most people. It’s not a simple solution that works for everyone so there will always be trade offs. This may not even be the best example as healthcare in Canada , the system functions quite well.  Its important to remember that you  cannot be too focused on this idea on how things are divided between the government and the free market.


The real important thing to remember is that you must put restraints on the government. Even if you were mostly a free market system and the government didn’t control much there are potential issues. In The Tyranny Of Experts, the author makes the argument that all it would take is one leader to come into power. This leader can be democratically elected. So it’s not like you’re dealing with a dictatorship. Once this leader comes into power he might have a different view or vision of what rights are and who should get those rights.  Maybe he is discriminatory or prejudicial towards a certain group of people. So he decides that he wants to take away rights from that group.

Another example would be free speech. Some people may believe that free speech is not that important.  Others might not like the idea of gun rights because as many would say ‘it causes too much violence’. People do come up with all kinds of excuses and rationalizations of why they believe something is not a good idea. So the point is, that even in a system where your government may not have that much power, you can come to a situation where your rights can be taken away and that can lead to poverty.


Gunnar Myrdal, a Swedish economist, would say that regular people are not capable of doing these things for themselves which is why those who are experts needed to take over. One of the examples had to do with farming equipment and how government needed to force them to save so they can buy the equipment. Why? Again, regular folks would not be able to do that on their own as most of them are not very competent. He would also make the case that poor folks do not care about things like rights as it’s simply not important to them.  They simply want a strong leader type that they can follow.

We give an example of a system in a socialist Yugoslavia where people were generally followers and didn’t care as long as they had a strong leader. This was due to the fact for many years the government was taking care of them. They had  no idea of what being free and having rights even meant. Since  they couldn’t compare it to anything else, most had no issues with it.


In The Tyranny of Experts, Easterly tells us how Hayek believed that Nazism and Communism do not belong in the opposite spectrum. They belong on the same side due to the fact they are both about collectivism. Both Hitler and Stalin did the same thing by trying to ruin the individual to serve a certain collective. The only difference is in how things are phrased and who the privileged groups become.


Hayek argued that Nazism and Communism are on the same side due to the fact they are both about collectivism.

Tyranny Of Experts makes a case that when you’re going into a country like Uganda and making a decision to take over their land, you’re always going to be violating people’s rights.  Even when you make a point that it’s for long term benefit of the country, the fact is that these countries still end up being quite poor. Lets make a case that the technical problems are the only ones that need fixing. How do you fix the issue of tyrannical governments coming in and taking over peoples right to have electricity, water, farms, etc? Also, every time any profits are made, they go into the hands of those corrupt leaders.


Many of those who call themselves progressive tend to show hatred for anyone who makes a lot more money or is successful in some way. This hatred causes them to  want higher taxes for the rich and to just redistribute the wealth. The main thing to note here is that it’s not really that they care about the poor or even equality, it’s mostly that they despise the rich. The inequality part is that they are the ones not on the top. It’s why they always claim to have solutions and if only they were given power, they would fix the system.


Hayek believed in the idea of minimum income. Provide enough so that an individual can preserve health and capacity to work.

He criticized the British conservatives for liking traditions, power, being nationalistic, anti intellectual, amongst other things. We ask, why would some of those things be a negative? Having traditions and being nationalistic for example. Traditions and nationalism can bring people together and give them meaning in times when free market capitalism just isn’t enough. In USA for example, it feels as if there is this missing element of patriotism missing. Half of the country makes everything about America and how it’s the best country in the world and the other half thinks it’s oppressive, racist and one of the worst countries.

But if you don’t have nationalism and don’t believe in traditions, what is there left to believe in exactly?  Consumerism? It doesn’t seem like a good idea because from there, you end up having ideas like fixing the world in your own image and this is where conflict with other nations emerges as you aren’t contained in any way. The world becomes your playground.




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