There is an accepted view in politics and the media that roughly equates to this: a professional class of ‘experts’ are far better at commentary and analysis than someone with a genuine interest. Hubris killed almost all Greek mythical figures, and as John Kay reminds us in his excellent book ‘Obliquity’, attempting to solve problems head on is futile. But our media and professional classes are blinkered to such views.
Osborne opens his article about the professional ‘amateur’ Christopher Martin-Jenkins by referencing an amateur ‘professional’:
“According to his biographer Janan Ganesh, George Osborne privately maintains that politics “is a trade with its own skills and codes that can only be learnt on the job. It is not an amateur vocation for talented people from other fields.” The Chancellor likes to refer to these initiates as members of what he calls the “political guild”, taking the view that nobody else much counts.”
Osborne goes on:
“Many of the problems facing the modern Conservative Party derive from Mr Osborne’s arrogant view that politics belongs only to a gilded, professional elite. Nothing could be further from the truth, and no wonder Conservative members are turning away in disgust”.
“Because I said so…”
Arrogance waylays human progress. The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s aloof stance depicts perfectly the conceited worldview of the professional ‘expert’. Those experts look ‘down’ a defunct hierarchy like a parent who is out of ideas and then decrees “because I said so”. George Osborne, mentally, must still think we – but not he – are living in bygone Britain. So let me break the news we all know but the political class thinks they have a franchise on: there’s no such thing as an ‘expert’.
The ‘professionalisation’ of industries and careers has led to a salaried, and therefore dependent, expert who looks only at one narrowly defined area of ‘expertise’. The ‘amateur’ asks what have I missed or what am I missing? The expert – often a by-product of centre ground tribal politics – doesn’t do this. They are used as a slightly elevated marketing device that’s wheeled out to rationalise a decision that benefits a select few.
Out of all the marginalised thinkers and writers I was reading or interviewing whilst making Four Horsemen not one claimed to be an expert. Their humility and deference for the knowledge amassed in their field was refreshing – none of them sunk to playground tribalism.
A guild is an association which controls the practice of a craft in a particular area. When doctors and lawyers hid their practice in Latin they did so to raise the barrier to entering their ‘markets’. The earliest guilds were formed as a brotherhood of workers. Textile workers, carpenters, masons et al were organised somewhere between a trade union, a cartel and a secret society. Members held secrets of imparted knowledge of their mysterious arts and crafts.
Guilds, first and foremost were designed to benefit the members and owners who often used political power to protect them. Many were monopolies which naturally distorted markets and fixed prices almost all guilds restricted entrance. This description of guilds is one that fits the rent seeking definition perfectly. Inherent conservatism is used to kill off innovation which diminishes the quality of life for everyone in order to shift money to the members at the expense of the entire economy. Sound familiar?
“The best lack all conviction…”
In the Second Coming, WB Yeats wrote: “The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”. You could argue that the falcon doesn’t hear because it has lost faith in its keeper’s ability. In the next lines Yeats wrote the “best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”. This timeless sentiment is especially relevant today, and we would do well to recognise it.
Our politics and media need outsiders or inspirational ‘amateurs’ with the enthusiasm and knowledge of their chosen field. We need people whose worldview is rounded not narrowly expert. People, whose judgement is calm and perceptive, people whose actions are aligned with a good intent. People who – when needed – are prepared to step up as leaders even if they are not the leader in terms of position. These are the people who know the centre isn’t holding.
What we don’t need are any more professional, jaded, arrogant politicians who, for whatever reason, fawn over the FIRE (Finance, Insurance & Real Estate) sector. Britain cannot withstand another Tony Blair, Osborne, Mandelson, Cameron etc. All ‘professionals’, all part of a mysterious closed guild that systemically works in its own interest and one which has certainly left us all poorer.