…comes from page 80 of Roger Koppl’s excellent 2018 book Expert Failure (link added, original emphasis):
Earlier we saw Lee Ellis argue for chemical castration of young men with “crime-prone genes.” Writers who, like Ellis (2008), view experts as reliable and nonexperts as powerless do not usually subject their theories to the reflexivity requirement. Ellis’ essay illistrates, however, the importance of the reflexivity that all agents of the system be modeled. He models persons with “crime-prone genes,” but not the experts who would administer sterilization policies. He consequently wishes to place discretionary power in the hands of persons unlikely to exercise such power with the Solomonic disinterest and wisdom his policies would require even under the assumption that his eugenic ideas are correct. In the theory of experts, as in all of social science, all agents must be modeled if we are to minimize the risk of proposing policies that would require some actors to behave in ways that are inconsistent with their incentives or beyond human capabilities.
JMM: Economics, and the social sciences in general, try to emulate the natural sciences by means and methods. But the social sciences differ from the natural sciences in the key way that Koppl mentions here: we are part of the very thing we are modeling. To borrow a metaphor from elsewhere in Koppl, we are also the ants in the anthill. So is government.
The big assumption made by many people, both on the left and on the right, is that government is somehow made out of finer clay than the rest of us mere mortals. This may be because they were elected, or appointed by God, or appointed by some panel of experts, or whatever. That, for some reason never really explained, those imposing rules and regulations upon us are free of the “crime-prone genes” or self-interest or moral failings of the rest of us. Were this true, were men really ruled by angels, then we would be near Heaven. But alas, human history indicates that this is not so. We all make mistakes, even under the best of intentions. The question is how to limit the danger of those mistakes.