Tag Archives: Elites

Are Elites Displacing Experts?

Peter Turchin has some interesting theories of cycles of empires in history. I’ve puzzled over his suggestion that “elite overproduction” is consistently part of the fall of empires, and that we are seeing it today. This concept doesn’t make much sense to me if “eliteness” is just one’s status rank, as that distribution can never change.

But maybe elite overproduction makes more sense as some previously rare status markers becoming more common. And I’ve just realized that I do in fact think I see a interesting trend of this sort: a drift from expert to elite styles and priorities in many areas. Let me explain.

We can see society as composed of three main groups: masses, elites, and experts. These aren’t discrete divisions; each person fills some mix of these three types in each aspect of their lives. And we seem to have a norm that our social institutions should be structured as: masses recognize elites who oversee experts.

Experts are people who are good at and know about particular things. They may be trained in them, or show a track record of accomplishment. We tend to defer to other experts in similar tasks to judge who is expert at something. We organize experts so that they can focus on the things at which they are best, and coordinate with other experts on related tasks. Expert talk tends to be precise, practical, concrete, and narrowly focused on particular tasks. Experts more engage detailed arguments and admit when they are wrong.

Elites are generally impressive people appropriate for leadership roles, who are accepted as such by both the masses and a wide range of other elites. Elites know less about particular technical tasks, and more about navigating social communities. Many kinds of impressiveness contribute to their eliteness, including wealth, beauty, intelligence, personality, connections, breadth, style, polish, and taste. Elite talk tends to be more artistic, stylish, and aspirational, and less precise, detailed, or logical.

Masses are people acting as ordinary people, without drawing on much in the way of special expertise or prestige.

Home schooling is a recent trend from experts to masses, but eating out more is a trend from masses to experts. Direct democracy is a trend from elites to masses, while regulation is a trend from masses to elites. Despite widespread references to “populism”, I don’t see a net trend toward or away from masses.

However, I think I do see a trend wherein expert habits and priorities are increasingly being replaced by elite versions. Let me give seven examples of this trend that I think I see.

First, there is the rise of higher education. Yes, learning more about how to do particular jobs would be more expert-like. But general learning not tied to particular job tasks designed mainly to confer prestige, that is more elite-like.

Second, we’ve seen a long term trend from engineering to design. Engineering used to get far more attention, now design does. Yes designers are experts to some degree, but they judge more on style, and more seek prestigious associations.

Third, we’ve seen a long term job toward jobs where talking matters more, compared to otherwise doing stuff. On average talkers are more elite, and doers are more expert. Experts who mainly talk (e.g., doctors, lawyers) are relatively elite as experts.

Fourth, we’ve seen the rise of an integrated community of world elites. When nations competed more directly, they paid more attention to experts re how to compete. But now nations care more about national prestige conferred by their elites.

Fifth, among intellectuals we’ve seen a rise in public intellectuals, who are more elites, relative to academics, who are more experts. The world is paying more attention to public intellectuals, who are more influential. Academics are less respected or influential, and more often and more eagerly seek to transition to become public intellectuals.

Sixth, using standardized tests like the SAT in school admissions is more of an expert style, while it seems a more elite style to drop such tests and instead relying on social dynamics among admissions elites to judge candidate essays, activities, personality, and connections. Our world is now making a big move away from standardized tests.

Seventh, the style of recent cancel culture represents a rise of elite over expert talk styles. Yes, atheists, communists, and homosexuals were “cancelled” in the past. But those were usually based on relatively direct admissions or evidence of who belonged to which category. In contrast, today a lot of interpretation and elite social voting goes into judging who is to be canceled on the basis of what they said, didn’t say, or didn’t apologize sufficiently for. Style, prestige, and political affiliations matter a lot. Expert talk is more “decoupled” than is elite talk, and decoupler-style talkers are most at risk here.

In most organizations, managers have increasingly elite habits and priorities higher up in management hierarchies. So a prediction of my hypothesis here is that, over time, elite styles have been becoming more common at lower levels over time. Not sure how to test this though.

Added 3a: In a comment, Berder notes that since 1980 we’ve seen a fall in words about rationality, relative to a rise in words about sentiment.

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Elites Must Rule

While I’ve spent much of my life doing institution/mechanism design, I’ve only lately come to see that, at least on prestigious topics, most people want relevant institutions to take the following ideal form:

Masses recognize elites, who oversee experts, who pick details.

While experts are known by other experts to be knowledgeable and skilled regarding particular topic areas, elites must be widely seen by the masses as having connections and features that are admirable and appropriate for leadership and governance roles. (More on experts vs elites.)

For example, with democratic governance the voter masses elect politician elites, who appoint mixed-elite-expert agency heads, who oversee expert agency personnel, who choose details. And debates on who should get to vote can be seen as debates on voter eliteness.

Long ago, it was seen as sufficient for the masses to recognize the natural eliteness of kings and aristocrats, who descended from or choose each other. You might think we are past that now, but academia and medical regulation both work this way. That is, we are all supposed to recognize that top academics and doctors are sufficiently elite to be trusted to run those orgs, and to pick their own successors, all without substantial outside oversight. And actually, this is how regulation works in many prestigious areas in many nations; the elites of each area are given a free hand to run those areas, and choose their successors.

If one sees the typical rich investor as sufficiently elite, then one can accept investors overseeing CEOs who oversee middle managers who oversee line workers, in a progression from relatively elite to relatively expert. The main reason that people object to this arrangement is that they are reluctant to see investors as sufficiently elite; they prefer instead to have government officials decide which firms get funding, and to have workers elect their managers.

Most people don’t like direct democracy, and dislike it more more when ordinary voters have more influence over the proposals on which to vote. And most people aren’t actually that comfortable with legal juries, unless jury choices are greatly limited by elite judges, and advised by expert lawyers. The U.S. uses juries today much less than it used to, and most nations have little use for them. It seems that most people instead want something closer to the ideal form described above.

Back in 2003 my Policy Analysis Market project hit the news, and was immediately killed. While the loudest complaints against it, of sabotage and price manipulation, had little basis in fact, this oft mentioned criticism was solid: such prediction markets would somewhat displace prestigious intelligence elites with more ordinary people. Markets producing better decisions via more accurate estimates was not seen as sufficient justification.

In the CIA today they tolerate internal prediction markets, but only under the rule that market estimates are never to be cited in official reports, which are the coin of prestige in that realm. Having prestigious reports cite prediction markets would let low level CIA experts somewhat displace CIA elites.

Wariness of many of my other institution ideas, such as tax career agents, life maintenance orgs, and crime vouchers, might also be attributed to their more overtly distrusting elites in various ways, and displacing the usual elites somewhat by for-profit firms and financial investors. And these are parties that many see as insufficiently elite. Producing more cost-effective outcomes is not seen as sufficient justification.

While I will continue to try to persuade people to weaken this constraint, and to consider institutions that rely less on our just trusting prestigious elites, I will now also try to take this seriously as a design constraint, and design institutions that conform better to the ideal form described above. I’ll start in my next post.

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Yet More Elites Vs Experts

In a stereotypic rich household of long ago, servants and the served had different roles, and different styles of talk. Servant areas of responsibility were practical, concrete and narrow, and servants were subject to being overruled by the served. The served were responsible for overall policy, especially those that reflected value choices. The served set overall goals, and servants figured out how to achieve them. The served made the biggest choices, including when to punish anyone, while servants made smaller choices.

Talk between servants, qua servant, tended to be concrete, expert, professional, and instrumental. That is, servants could usually agree on what ends they were trying to achieve, they had relatively fast feedback on what worked or didn’t, they allowed pointed criticisms and rebuttals, and their talk was generally organized to aggregate info well and fast within their areas of responsibility.

Talk between the served was usually less precise, and more eloquent, emotional, and aspirational. It allowed less for frank direct pointed criticisms and rebuttals. But their talk better managed the greater complexities of their social world. For example, their talk better allowed speakers to show off their prestigious qualities, it better protected them from pointed criticism, and it better navigated treacherous waters of motivations, alliances, and conflict.

Talk between servants and the served was asymmetric. The served could much more freely initiate topics, proposals, and complaints to servants than vice versa. The served could be more casual and arbitrary. Only the served could give direct orders, while servants were not to contradict the served who pretended to have as much expertise as servants.

Many of us are aware that a similar relation exists today between employees and bosses. Except that instead of wealth (or a master-slave relation) it is organizational authority that puts bosses in their higher role, and both sides do more to hide their hierarchical relationship. For example, both sides often wear similar clothes, and bosses tend to make suggestions, rather than giving direct orders.

But most of us seem far less aware that a similar relation also exists today more generally between our entire classes of experts and elites. Experts are the people who know and do the most on particular valuable topics, while elites are the people of highest status (status includes dominance and prestige), status based on weightings of wealth, smarts, artfulness, beauty, achievement, celebrity, and much more, all combined and ranked via a gossip-induced consensus of elites on who has how much status. The same person can sometimes sit in an expert role, and at other times sit in an elite role.

While we often pretend that everyone is equally allowed to take important actions, we in fact tend to accept many important actions only if they are taken by elites, who do it in a sufficiently elite style. For example, most are reluctant to consider proposals for innovations, reforms, or new research topics unless they come from sufficiently high elites. We disapprove of non-elites who try to complain, even about their own personal mistreatment, or who try to directly punish wrong-doers. Such things are to be expressed and suggested first in private to appropriate elites, who then might or might not choose to take such matters further. Cynical observations, sexual advances, commentary near sensitive topics, and bad news that might implicitly criticize elites are all tolerated far more from sufficiently high elites who do these things in sufficiently artful styles.

Many experts enforce such rules on associates, insisting that, when speaking qua expert, they only speak precisely, narrowly, and when asked. But many other experts chafe at these limits. They feel that experts should be encouraged to speak up on important political and social topics where they know the most. Experts should propose innovations and reforms, and criticize existing practices and dysfunctional elites. Furthermore, such advocates feel that public discourse on such topics should be done in a more expert-like “rational” style, with more precise language, arguments clear enough to allow refutations, and others encouraged to attempt such refutations. They blame poor policy in part on the usual elite talk styles, with their vagueness, emotional appeals, and implicit appeals to group attachments.

Many elites claim to agree with this, and say that they listen lots to experts and adopt their more rational styles. But in fact, elites mostly continue to do as elites have always done. And most everyone else ignores these uppity experts, looking instead only to elites for innovations, reforms, criticisms, and punishments.

Surely we should consider the possibility that these long-standing non-expert elite styles at least constitute a social equilibrium, wherein deviations would tend to be punished. And furthermore such elite styles may have functional advantages in terms of managing motivations and alliances, and avoiding criticism. Improvements might well require coordinated moves to alternate equilibria, and/or institutional changes that encourage and reward such moves. But until we find such reforms, we should wonder how sure we can be that they aren’t at least doing things roughly right.

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Elite Biases Make Policy Biases

A 2014 paper predicted U.S. policy changes over four years for 1,779 issues, using the positions of four groups of influencers: business-based interest groups (55), mass-based interest groups (31), median public opinion (6), and elite public opinion (100), i.e. that of people at the 90th percentile of income. (I’ve listed their relative influence in parenthesis. Criticism says mid-class (not poor) influence is bigger.) While elite and median public opinion had a 0.78 correlation, the other pairs were uncorrelated. (A poll sets median influencer at 92% income percentile.)

What this says is that, even in a democracy, the ~90th percentile rich have the most influence, business interest groups have about half as much, and mass interest groups have about a third as much. We less rich folks only get what we want, to the extent we do, mainly because these elites mostly agree with us, and because we sometimes influence mass interest groups.

This median influencer household has income of $210K/yr and wealth of $1.2M, and households above this cut pay 70% of US Federal income taxes. This income is near the median doctor ($207K) and U.S. District Judge ($218K), more than the median full professor ($141K), lawyer ($139), lobbyist ($115K), judge ($109K), and CEO ($103K), and much more than the median federal civil servant ($64K) and high school teacher ($63K). (The median household made $64K, while the median CEO of the top 500 firms made $12.7M.)

These elites who set policy get most of their status and income from labor, not capital, and they are quite comfortable with, and in fact love, large bureaucratic organizations. Their highest hopes tend to be of gaining positions in, getting promoted in, or creating, such organizations. When they have dreams for the world, they dream of new versions with higher mandates and bigger budgets. (Think socialism.)

They can distinguish each other by their elite accomplishments, school credentials, org affiliations, and styles of talk, dress, etc. And their internal dynamics are dominated by status and gossip. That is, they are very social and join mutually-supporting coalitions which help get them the right jobs, party invites, speaking invites, etc. Via extensive gossip, they quickly form an apparent consensus on the policy issues of the day, on who is higher status among them, and on who should be ostracized and expelled from their ranks. Today these elite communities of gossip and status are integrated across the world.

Simple as it is, this account of who most influences policy seems to me promising as the basis of a theory of policy bias. That is, the natural biases of the group who most influences policy may plausibly explain many of our overall policy biases.

For example, policy set by elites may give elites too much benefit of the doubt, and defer too much to their status-gossip system. As elites tend to see their internal status-gossip processes as sufficient to discourage malfeasance and encourage excellence, they tend to see little need for other forms of track records, incentives, or accountability within elite professions and organizations, including government agencies. They see themselves as mostly good people, trying to do good things, who should be supported not hassled.

As another example, when there are groups that elites see as more outside of themselves, as rivals competing with them for power, then elites may push for policies that control, suppress, and disrespect such rivals.

The most obvious candidate for such a rival group is business. Even though these elites are richer than most of us, like most of us they focus more on those who are above them in status, relative to those who are below. Furthermore, the study above says that business is in fact their main rival for influence over policy. And while most business profits go to elites, elites don’t think of themselves as having their main influence on the world via business; elites instead identify more with their roles as org leaders and elite gossipers.

Furthermore, while elites see themselves as mostly well-meaning good people, they see business as transparently and dangerously selfish. Elites see businesses as tending to do what makes them more money, even when their leaders are ostracized and not invited to the right parties. Meaning that the usual pressures that work on most elites may not work on business and the super-rich. Thus elites support harsh, intrusive, and punitive business taxes, regulations, and legal liability. Yes when the super-rich are taxed, these elites are also taxed, but that may seem worth the price to take them down a peg or two. Most ordinary people miss this conflict by not distinguishing these two different kinds of “rich”.

Even though ordinary people seem to have little influence on policy, and mostly agree with elites on policy, elites are still wary of them as individuals. After all, we outnumber them at least five to one, we might revolt, and they must rely on us to do most of the things that need doing. So as employees, we must be tracked, assigned, and incentivized. As consumers and investors, we must be regulated. As authors and voters, our thoughts must be shaped and channeled via teachers, censors, media, interest groups, and politicians. As potential criminals we need to be tracked and threatened with punishment. And the poorest of us need even more direct management, such as via social workers and parole officers. All of which not only keeps us under control, but asserts elite status via the fact of their managing such controls.

Mass-based interest groups mostly don’t seem to scare elites as a whole, because usually such groups are dominated by elites at their top levels. It is only when a mass-based group seems to oppose elites as a whole that elites close ranks and warn against the dangers of such “populism”. While our society gives a lot of lip service to populism, populism is usually crushed aggressively whenever it actually seems threatening.

So how does this theory do empirically? It seems to me that policy does tend to be overly trusting of elites and their status-gossip system, and overly punitive and disrespectful of rival groups. For example, policy pushes us to pick docs, lawyers, and other prestigious professionals based more on the prestige of their affiliations, and less on track records or incentives. Business does seem greatly overly regulated, and taxes seem overly punitive. And policy seems to rely too much on the consensus of elite gossip, relative to more accurate sources like experts or prediction markets.

While roughly half of all regulation of individuals seems to be justified as protecting people from themselves, warnings seem just as helpful but would be far less controlling. Free speech (really free hearing) would be as effective at informing as is censorship. Pandemics could be more efficiently handled via law. And the poor could be helped more via simple cash transfers instead of expensive intrusive management of their lives.

Our legal system has high costs of suing people (from not using lotteries) but no required liability insurance. This makes law available to elites to sue each other, and to punish business, but not available to ordinary people to sue elites or each other. Elites can protect themselves well from ordinary people via strong prosecutor powers of plea bargaining together with broad surveillance and huge numbers of crime laws on the books, and also judges who are elites and give elites the benefit of the doubt. Oh and living, shopping, and working in separate neighborhoods.

And that’s my simple theory of who runs society, and policy biases that naturally result from their rule.

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Status Trumps Argument

Are elites nicer than other people? No, but they are better at being nice contingently, in the right situations where niceness is rewarded. And also better at being mean contingently, in the situations where that is rewarded. Other people aren’t as good on average at correlating their niceness with rewards for niceness. A similar pattern applies to elites and arguments.

In a world with many strong prediction markets, social consensus would be set by the people willing and able to trade in those markets. Which could be most anyone. And those traders would in general be responsive to good arguments, as traders are on the hook to win or lose a lot of money if they fail to listen to good arguments. In this world, arguments would be a powerful force for producing better beliefs.

But in our world today, the perceived social consensus is mostly set by elites. That is, by whatever seems to be elites’ shared opinion. And so the power of arguments depends on elites being willing and able to listen to them. Do they?

Many elites are selected for their ability to generate and evaluate good arguments. So many are quite able to listen. But as with being nice, elites are especially good at contingent strategies: they generate and credit good arguments when they are rewarded for that, but not otherwise.

The key parameter that determines if an elite is rewarded for using and crediting good arguments is the relative status of the parties involved. When elites argue with equal status elites, their arguments may need to be good. At least if their particular audience values arguments.

But consider a case where two parties to a dispute are of very unequal status, and where the topic is one where there’s a perception that elite consensus agrees with the high status party. In this case, the higher status party only needs to offer the slim appearance of argument quality. Just blathering a few related words is often completely sufficient. Even if put together in context those words don’t really make much sense.

I have seen this happen many times personally. For example, if I argue with a higher status person, who for some reason engages with me in this context, and if my position is one seen as reasonable by the usual elite consensus, then my partner is careful to offer quality arguments, and to credit such arguments if I offer them. But if I take a position seen as against the current elite consensus, that same high status partner instead feels quite comfortable offering very weak and incoherent arguments.

(Yes, low status people follow this approach too, but high status people are better at executing this as a contingent strategy, and their choices matter more.)

Or consider all the crazy weak arguments offered by Project Bluebook to dismiss hard-to-explain UFO encounters. As they were confident that audiences would see UFO advocates as much lower status, they could blithely blather things like “swamp gas” that just didn’t fit case details.

Thus in our world today the quality of arguments only matters for positions “within the Overton window”. That is, positions that many elites are seen to take seriously. Which is why contrarians positions are so often unfairly dismissed. Even though, yes, most contrarian positions are wrong. And this is why we need to break out of our system of social consensus dominated so strongly by elites.

Added 20May: Note that this sort of thing can fool people who listen to such contrarian debates into underestimating the usual intellectual standards for non-contrarian topics. They may then think that arguments only modestly better than the ones elites use to dismiss them are of sufficient quality. But that isn’t remotely good enough.

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Explaining Regulation

During this pandemic, elites have greatly enjoyed getting to feel important by weighing in on big pandemic policy questions, such as masks, lockdowns, travel restrictions, vaccine tests, vaccine distribution, etc. Each elite can feel self-righteous in their concern for others, and morally outraged when the world doesn’t follow their recommendations. Don’t people know that this is too important for XYZ to get in the way of the world believing that they are right? Unconsciously, they seek to signal that they are in fact elites, by the facts that they agree with elites, that other elites listen to them, and that the world does what elites say.

Imagine that these key pandemic policy choices had been made instead by private actors. Such as vaccine makers testing, pricing, and distributing as they wished, airlines limiting travel as they wished, and legal liability via tracking discouraging overly risky behavior. Government could have influenced these choices indirectly via subsidies and taxes, but the key specific choices would still have been made privately.

In this scenario, talking head elites would have been a lot more frustrated, as they’d have to direct their advice to these private actors, who are much less visibly eager than public officials to slavishly follow elite advice. So elites could less clearly show that they are elites by the fact that the world promptly and respectably obeys their commands.

When these private actors made choices that later seemed like mistakes in retrospect, then elites who resented their neglect would make passionate calls to change legal standards in order to rain down retribution and punishment upon these private actors, to “hold them to account.” Even though they were not at fault according to prior legal standards. However, when private decisions seemed right in retrospect, there’d be few passionate calls to rain down extra rewards on them. As we’ve seen recently in the “opiod crisis”, or earlier with subprime loans, cigarettes, and nuclear power.

In contrast, when government authorities do exactly what elites tell them, and yet in retrospect those decisions look mistaken, there are few calls to hold to account these authorities, or the elites and media who goaded them on. We then hear all about how uncertainty is a real thing, and even good decisions can look bad in retrospect. Given these sort of “heads I win, tails we flip again” standards, it is no surprise that private actors would often rather that key decisions be made by government officials. Even if those decisions will be made worse, private actors can avoid frequent retribution for in-hindsight mistakes.

In principle, elites could argue at higher levels of abstraction, not about specific mask or travel rules, but about how best to structure the general institutions and systems of information and incentives in which various choices are made. Then elites could respond to a crisis by reevaluating and refining these more abstract systems. But, alas, most elites don’t know enough to argue at this level. Some people with doctorates in economics or computer science are up to this task, but in our world we use a great many weak indicators to decide who counts as “elites”, and the vast majority of those who quality simply don’t know how to think about abstract institution design questions. But masks, etc. they think they understand.

Yes, there are many other topics which require great expertise, such as for example designing nuclear reactors. In many such cases, elites realize that they don’t know enough to offer judgments on details, and so don’t express opinions at detail levels. When something goes wrong, they instead may just say “more must be done”, even though they almost never say “less must be done” after a long period without things going wrong. Or they may respond to a problem by saying “government-authorized authorities must oversee more of these details”, though again they hardly ever suggest overseeing fewer details in other situations.

So the problem with regulation is more fundamentally that elites focus on reacting to concrete failures, instead of looking for missed opportunities, and they don’t understand much more than “do more” and “oversee more” as the possible institutional responses to concrete problems that they see need expertise. Nor do they understand much about how to design better institutions other than to respond in these ways to more particular observed problems.

And that’s my simple theory of most regulation. Elites love to pontificate on the problems of the day, and want whatever consensus they produce to be quickly enacted by authorities. As government officials are far more prompt and subservient in such responses, elites prefer government authorities to have strong regulatory powers. Elites enforce this preference via asymmetric pressures on private actors, punishing failure but not rewarding success, yet doing neither for public actors and their elite supporters.

Elon Musk is in for a world of pain if any of his many quite risky ventures ever stumbles, as elites are mad at him for ignoring their advice that none of his ventures ever had a chance. Zuckerberg is already being credibly threatened with punishment for supposed missteps by Facebook, even though it isn’t at all clear what they did wrong, and with no gratitude shown for all the social value they’ve contributed thus far.

All this gives me mixed feelings when I see smart people offer good advice in elite discussions on concrete topics like masks, vaccines, etc. Yes, given that this is how decisions are going to be made, it is better to make good than bad choices. But I wish such advisors more often and visibly said that this isn’t how such decisions should made. We should instead design good general institutions we can trust to deal with each crisis without needing constant elite micromanagement.

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Why Openers Are Winning

Three main relevant groups have vied lately to influence pandemic policy: public, elites, and experts. Initially, public health experts dominated, even when they screwed up. But then they seemed to publicly assume that it was too late to contain Covid19, and the only viable option was “flattening the curve” to get herd immunity. At that point, elite opinion worldwide objected loudly, and insisted that containment be the official policy.

Experts and the public demurred, and elites got their way. Everywhere in the world, all at once, strong lockdown polices began, and containment became the official goal. But elites did not insist on any particular standard containment policy. Such as, for example, the packages of polices that seem to have worked initially in Wuhan or South Korea. Instead elites seemed satisfied to let the politicians and experts in each jurisdiction craft their own policy packages, as long as they seemed “strong”, involving much public sacrifice. And they allowed official public messages suggesting that relatively short durations would be sufficient.

A few months later, those duration periods are expiring. And in the different jurisdictions, the diverse policies now sit next to quite diverse outcomes. In some places, infections are low or declining, while in others they are flat or increasing. The public is feeling the accumulated pain, and itching to break out. If these flat or increasing trends continue, containment will fail, and lockdown harms will soon exceed plausible future gains from preventing medical system overload.

Elites are now loudly and consistently saying that this is not time to open; we must stay closed and try harder to contain. When confronted with the discouraging recent trends, elites respond with a blizzard of explanations for local failures, and point to a cacophony of prophets with plans and white papers declaring obvious solutions.

But, and this is the key point, they mostly point to different explanations and solutions. For example, this polls shows very little agreement on the key problem:

So while the public will uniformly push for more opening, elites and experts push in a dozen different directions. If elites would all back the same story and solution, as they did before, they would probably get it. If they would say “We agree that this is what we did wrong over the last few months, and this is the specific policy package that will produce much different outcomes over the next few months.” But they aren’t saying this.

So elites and experts don’t speak with a unified voice, while the public does. And that’s why the public will win. While the public tends to defer to elites and experts, and even now still defers a lot, this deference is gradually weakening. We are starting to open, and will continue to open, as long as opening is the main well-supported alternative to the closed status quo, which we can all see isn’t working as fast as expected, and plausibly not fast enough to be a net gain. Hearing elites debate a dozen other alternatives, each supported by different theories and groups, will not be enough to resist that pressure to open.

Winning at politics requires more than just prestige, good ideas, and passion. It also requires compromise, to produce sufficient unity. At this game, elites are now failing, while the public is not.

Added 3p: Many are reading me as claiming that the public is unified in the sense of agreeing on everything. But I only said that the public pushes will will tend to be correlated in a particular direction, in contrast with the elite pushes which are much more diverse. Some also read me as claiming that strong majorities of the public support fast opening, but again that’s not what I said.

Added 6May: Here is data suggesting people are getting out more. Here is data suggesting increasing support for opening.

Added 7May: This poll suggests patience is thin. Lognormal fit says only willing to wait median of 1.2 months (mode 0.08, mean 4.7).

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