"Knowledge is becoming more specialized and more dispersed, while government power is becoming more concentrated," writes economist Arnold Kling in his new book, "Unchecked and Unbalanced." "This discrepancy creates the potential for government to become increasingly erratic and, as a result, less satisfying to individuals."
"Less satisfying to individuals" is a mild way to put it. In a recent Annenberg focus group, pollster Peter Hart asked Philadelphia suburbanites to write the name that came to mind when they thought of Congress. A retired auto executive and 2008 Obama voter wrote, "Satan." When asked why, he said, "Because I wasn't sure of the correct spelling of 'Beelzebub.'"
Kling's point is that such disenchantment is inevitable when government officeholders make sweeping decisions about matters on which they lack, and only a few specialists have, detailed knowledge. Which is what Congress and the Obama administration have been busy doing these past 11 months.
Consider the 2,000-plus-page health care legislation now before the Senate. There is coherent debate on abortion coverage because it's a discrete issue easily isolated from the rest of the bill that raises concerns among people with conflicting strong moral beliefs.
But any abortion provision would have less effect on real life than dozens of other provisions in the bill. The Congressional Budget Office, drawing on specialist knowledge, tells us the Senate bill would result in 10 million people losing employer-provided insurance and increased premiums for buyers of individual health insurance. And the CBO says the bill would not bend the cost curve downward.
Democratic leaders want to pass something, almost anything, for fear of political damage. They want to give government even more power over one-sixth of the economy, and over ordinary people's health care. To that end, they have been happy to game the CBO's scoring system, misusing specialized knowledge to achieve political ends.
On the issue of carbon emissions, the e-mails hacked from Britain's Climate Research Unit show even leading specialists in climate research have been busy manipulating data and suppressing alternative views in pursuit of political ends. Their goal, and that of the Democrats backing cap-and-trade legislation, is government control over energy production and distribution essential to all of the economy.