Economists are considered the economic experts. After all, we’re the ones with the PhDs, the fancy mathematics, the complex theories that purport to explain everything.
But the reality is quite different. We are not the economic experts. Indeed, a good education in economics inoculates one from thinking himself an expert and forces him to think himself more of an observer.
The real economic experts are everyone.
People understand how to act in their own best interests. Nothing about the market needs experts to guide it. People are not fools who require technocrats to tell them what they can and cannot buy. The outcome of the market, the observed phenomena that are the market process, is nothing more than the results of people interacting with one another; human action but not human demand. People are acting on information that they have and the signals they see. They are the experts, not the economist or technocrat.
Protectionists disagree, however. They believe they know better than everyone else. They believe they know better than the Joes of the world. They believe they know better than people what is in their own best interest. So they seek to impose their will upon everyone else, the opinions, hopes, and dreams of the others be damned. “They are not educated,” the protectionist thinks. “They are not versed in the theorems and mathematical proofs that show that Joe is harming himself. If only he had a benevolent hand to guide him; to push him in the right direction (or tug on the leash, if necessary).”
Free marketers believe non-economists do indeed know more economics than the economists. That’s precisely why they argue for free markets; so people can exploit their knowledge and expertise to the best of their ability. The protectionists and socialists (but I repeat myself) disagree. They believe themselves to be far smarter than the Joes of the world and that the Joes are simply too stupid to act in their own behalf.
Markets are observed empirical phenomena, not a technocratic outcome. The market process is not a theory per se but an actual outcome. The theory is used to explain why that outcome occurs, but it is an outcome nonetheless.