The Dunning-Kruger Effect in Politics

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“Where reflection is wanting, zeal is not good;

He who goes too quickly misses his way”. -King Solomon (Proverbs 19:2)

In the early 2000s, my cousin set out to become a geological engineer and she encountered some interesting arguments from Young-Earth Creationists – those who believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. She found some of their arguments fascinating but ultimately abandoned them.

She sells data charts to mining and energy companies and they use time/temperature-dependent models – the notion that if organic material has been under a certain amount of pressure for millions of years it will generate a specific result of interest to drilling and mining companies. As interesting as Young-Earth Creationist arguments are, their models don’t work while mainstream science models do work. I have nothing against Young-Earth Creationism, I would be the first to introduce anyone with a successful model to energy investors with Cayman Island hedge funds.

In spite of the non-functioning models, Young-Earth Creationism is still an enormous force within North American culture. It exists fueled by a select few scientists and millions of passionate non-experts giving arguments to their ends failing to produce successful models. Herein lies the thesis of the article – arguments without models. It is knowledge with no executional component.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect proposes that we can be victimized by a little knowledge of a subject causing us to believe we are far more educated in the area than we actually are. Minimal research can cause ideological fervor resulting in great zeal, with only a few hours of reflection.

Common examples target people on the right – the person who knows nothing, professionally or academically, about either oceans or plastics appears hellbent on ridiculing and laugh-reacting to the idea that plastics accreting in our oceans is problematic based on their minuscule readings on the topic. Today, we see endless memes emerging from those who would fail to recognize a fundamental equation in epidemiology telling us that masks are ineffective in preventing the spread of a virus, or that vaccines don’t work, all predicated on superficial research, research which might sound overwhelmingly convincing but fails miserably on multivariable and nonlinear modeling.

However, the problem exists on the left equally forcefully. Socialists with no knowledge of finances or taxes insist we tax billionaires – wholly unaware their wealth isn’t in disposable cash, and more troublesome, wholly unaware of the consequences this places on the economy. They have read some internet arguments, believing themselves to be masters of the subject, and offer pronouncements on a field where they have no professional or academic knowledge.

As a former mortgage broker, investment property owner, and admin of a local landlords association, I participated in a panel on homelessness. Running as a politician, homelessness and rising rents came up as a dominant issue. I pointed out various federal regulations that were problematic and caused homelessness. Members of a tenants rights association responded by threatening me with a guillotine on three separate occasions, preferring candidates and opinions that ratified their hostilities to landlords.

When a local charity went to purchase a motel to house our homeless for the winters, they faced a decline that outraged the city – a decline from the regulations that I had identified. Someone with training and professional experience has executional knowledge while the political opinions rooted in internet discussions borders on useless knowledge, but it’s useless knowledge that can tragically set policy – the tragedy is that homelessness in Canadian winters is deadly.

The key curiosity that I have is why so many examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect are geared toward belittling those on the right. Of all of the examples I found they were either politically neutral or showing that the right isn’t well-educated when there are a plethora of examples from finance and economics that indicate the left is in possession of strong opinions, but very little executional knowledge.

Gun control is another example. Leftists who know nothing about gun culture are insistent upon specific regulations. They who know nothing wish to control. The same can be said of price controls on agriculture – they may sound good in theory and rile the emotions of those paying too much at the grocery store, but when they result in shortages the result is deadly. Those who know nothing, who have produced nothing, who have no executional component to their knowledge, wish to opine and even worse – control.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the greatest argument for libertarianism. People with minimal knowledge have a desire to allow their ignorant opinions to control others. They wish for their strong opinions, rooted in worthless research, to govern society.

The end result is the Socratic lesson that being opinion-rich but research poor is the allowance for evil. People armed with internet opinions with no executional knowledge can be dangerous if they wind up influencing policy – and invariably they do.

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Brandon Kirby

Brandon Kirby has a philosophy degree from the University of New Brunswick and is a current MBA candidate finishing his thesis. He is an AML officer specializing in hedge funds in the Cayman Islands, owns a real estate company in Canada, and has been in the financial industry since 2004. He is the director of Being Libertarian - Canada and the president of the Libertarian Party of Canada.

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