The Other 99 Percent

"The ignorance, prejudices, and groupthink of an educated elite are still ignorance, prejudice, and groupthink--and for those with one percent of knowledge in a society to be guiding or controlling those with the other 99 percent is as perilous as it is absurd.  The difference between special knowledge and mundane knowledge is not simply incidental or semantic.  Its social implications are very consequential.  For example, it is far easier to concentrate power than to concentrate knowledge.  That is why so much social engineering backfires and why so many despots have led their countries into disasters.

"Where knowledge is conceived of as Hayek conceived of it, to include knowledge unarticulated even to ourselves, but expressed in our individual habits and social customs, then the transmission of such knowledge from millions of people to be concentrated in surrogate decision-makers becomes very problematic, if not impossible, since many of those operating with such knowledge have not fully articulated such knowledge even to themselves, and so can hardly transmit it to others, even if they might wish to.

"Since many, if not most, intellectuals operate under the implicit assumption that knowledge is already concentrated--in people like themselves--they are especially susceptible to the idea that a corresponding concentration of decision-making power in a public-spirited elite can benefit society.  That assumption has been the foundation for reform movements like Progressivism in the United States and revolutionary movements in various other countries around the world.  Moreover, with sufficient knowledge being considered already concentrated, those with this view often conceive that what needs to be done is to create an accompanying will and power to deal collectively with a wide array of social problems.  Emphasis on 'will,' 'commitment,' 'caring,' or 'compassion,' as crucial ingredients for dealing with social issues implicitly assumes away the question whether those who are presumed to have these qualities also have sufficient knowledge."

--Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Society, rev. ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2011), chapter 2.


  1. Christian BrockmanJuly 24, 2012 at 5:10 PM

    Hayek's articulation of the problem of local knowledge was (and in many ways still is) revolutionary. So glad you are reading Sowell!

  2. Me, too! He is an eye-opener and no mistake!


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