In a recent post, Loren provides an excellent analysis of the silly decision making process that is being used to decide school closures in Hamilton. Among many cool tidbits, he writes:
“What is troubling, however, is the uniform obsession with closures. There are a range of creative and cost-effective ways we might reconfigure and reimagine existing facilities: partial decommisions, mixed uses, or a range of potential public-private partnerships. Most boards take none of these seriously.”
To me, this is a Hayekian story about expert information, its location (either dispersed throughout or concentrated within a particular segment of society), and how some politicians and policymakers sometimes make bad decisions because they assume they have a monopoly on expert information.
According to Loren’s post, these politicians and civil servants seem to believe they have a monopoly on expert information regarding how to assess and solve issues relating to school building use and maintenance. They made their decisions based on their own knowledge and then took those decisions to the public for “consultations.”’ In the case of Loren’s neighbourhood, which is a location filled with university professors and professionals, they encountered a variety of citizens who had access to their own expert (and local) knowledge that was relevant to the school closure decisions. Rather than consider and incorporate this new expert knowledge, the policymakers and civil servants ignored them, probably because they were in positions of authority and as such assumed that they had a monopoly over the expert knowledge on these issues. The result was bad public policy.
Hayek may have been wrong about a number of things but it’s examples like these that show his continued relevance. If policymakers and civil servants simply realize that it is possible that expert knowledge is (at least sometimes) dispersed throughout society, then perhaps we’d have better policy outcomes.