01/12/2017

Hey Hollywood, Smugness Isn't A Political Strategy

Megan McArdle, Bloomberg

Ah, Hollywood awards season. It must be time for celebrities to don gorgeous clothes, have each individual hair arranged by some stylist who charges by the femtosecond, and get up on stage to advocate for some political cause — and for the rest of us to spend days arguing about what they said.

This election cycle has been unusually vicious and angry, and therefore, of course, the controversy is as well. Meryl Streep has delivered a rebuke to Donald Trump, and now social media is convulsed by debate over a blandly unobjectionable point: Trump was wrong to make fun of a disabled reporter’s handicap.

Out of self-protection, some commentators retreat to the meta-debate: Should entertainers even make political statements? Actors are chosen for pulchritude and emotional plasticity, not for their ability to grasp fine policy distinctions or complex moral reasoning, so why on earth do they presume to lecture the rest of us? And isn’t it bad for business?

Well, yes, celebrities are stupid about policy, often breathtakingly so. On the other hand, so is everyone else. You want to hear some really stupid ideas about policy? Grab a group of whip-smart financial wizards, or neurosurgeons, or nuclear physicists, and sit them down for a nice dinner to debate some policy outside their profession. You will find that they are pretty much just as stupid as anyone else, because policy is not about smart. I mean, smart helps. But policy is fundamentally about domain knowledge, and that knowledge is acquired only by spending a great deal of time thinking about a pretty small set of problems. Funnily enough, this is also how one gets good at finance, or neurosurgery, or nuclear physics.

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