In August, I mentioned that I had chosen the title “Political Reality” for my memo in part because of my liking for oxymorons. I classed that title with other internally contradictory statements, such as “jumbo shrimp” and “common sense.” Now I’m going to discuss one more: “expert opinion.”
This memo was inspired by a thought that popped into my head when the outcome of the election settled in. You may point out that at the end of my November 14 memo “Go Figure!,” I said I wouldn’t write any more about politics. True, but I didn’t say I wouldn’t think about politics. Anyway, this memo isn’t about politics, it’s about opinions.
Last spring I attended a dinner where one of Hillary Clinton’s senior advisers was soliciting input, as she and her campaign were struggling to come up with an effective counter to Bernie Sanders’s populist message. Most of those present expressed frustration on the subject, until an experienced, connected Democrat assured everyone, “Don’t worry. She’ll win. The math is irresistible.” The Hillary supporters were relieved, and he turned out to be right: she won the nomination going away.
In late October, with the issue of Clinton’s private email server and the FBI’s new investigation further dogging her, that same seasoned Democrat was asked whether the election was in jeopardy. “Don’t worry,” he said. “She’ll win. The math is irresistible.” We all know the result.
The opinions of experts concerning the future are accorded great weight . . . but they’re still just opinions. Experts may be right more often than the rest of us, but they’re unlikely to be right all the time, or anything close to it. This year’s election season gave us plenty of opportunities to see expert opinion in action. I’ll start this memo by reflecting on them.