Decentralized knowledge, centralized power

Arnold Kling argues in his interview on EconTalk that knowledge is becoming more decentralized while power is becoming more centralized. Therefore more decisions will be made by people who don’t know what they’re doing.

His strongest point is that knowledge is being decentralized. Jobs have become more specialized, academic disciplines have become more narrow, people have become more interdependent, etc. It’s harder to defend a blanket statement that power is becoming more centralized. Kling gives important examples of power consolidation, but one could also give examples of an opposite trend. It would be easier to argue that at least in some contexts power is becoming more centralized.

If in some context power is becoming centralized while knowledge is being decentralized, it is inevitable that more decisions will be made without adequate knowledge. This sounds like a breeding ground for a sort of antibiotic-resistant strain of the Peter Principle.

Related posts:

Parkinson’s law
Organization scar tissue
Stupidity scales

6 thoughts on “Decentralized knowledge, centralized power

  1. There are three aspects of power: money, violence and knowledge. Knowledge is the most versatile of all three. People have more access to knowledge, therefore they have more power.

    “The system” could be getting more centralized, but the system is doing this without any connection to reality of the world, to the power structure of the world. The system, then, in fact has no power.

    It has no ability to fix problems, cause a positive change in the world, which is a result of having power.

    Obama’s band-aid fix to health-care demonstrates this. The system needs to relinquish control, bringing institutional structure to the current power structure.

  2. koala: People have more access to information, but the information each person understands is a smaller percentage of the total picture than before. I’m always hearing someone say that they can’t keep on top of what they once understood and now have become narrowly specialized.

  3. Maybe some (or most) cannot make the best of their access — but the important point is, people who “can” make most of this access now “do” have the ability to do that; whereas previously they could not.

    Also, I wouldnt dismiss simple access that quickly. After ETA attacks in Spain, the government lied to its people and claimed it was Al Qaida. Very soon, this simple SMS messages circulated through people’s phones: “Government is lying, attack was ETA. Forward this message to the next person”. Very simple, to the point, and it managed to mobilize millions. The incumbent government lost the election after this event.

  4. Also, I wouldnt dismiss simple access that quickly. After ETA attacks in Spain, the government lied to its people and claimed it was Al Qaida. Very soon, this simple SMS messages circulated through people’s phones: “Government is lying, attack was ETA. Forward this message to the next person”. Very simple, to the point, and it managed to mobilize millions. The incumbent government lost the election after this event.

    Citation?

    In the 2004 Madrid Bombings, they actually blamed ETA first. However, the evidence is pretty weak, and the evidence is stronger that it was related to Al-Qaida or some such spinoff.

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