In recent days, I have seen any number of people weighing in on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With social media, everybody has a platform, and so everybody is an expert.
Except that when everybody offers an opinion, we drown out the informed views of the actual experts – those who have dedicated their educations and careers to studying one thing so that they actually know what they are talking about. Sure, it is interesting to see what a few friends are saying on Twitter, but the voices I want to hear are those that belong to current and former diplomats, military leaders and academics who have studied the region. This is just the latest example of our society’s lost respect for expertise.
Politics is filled with “outsider” candidates, from movie stars to business leaders who pledge to “run government like a business.” Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder provides a painful example of someone who demonstrated that government is not a business. Snyder had seen great success as an executive for Gateway Inc, a computer hardware company, and as a venture capitalist, but he had never served in state government before running for governor under the slogan, “one tough nerd.” As governor, Snyder placed the City of Flint under emergency management in an effort to improve its financial status, a laudable goal. But the myopic focus on the bottom line led to tragic results, when the city decided to switch water sources from Lake Huron to the less expensive Flint River, and then botched the transition by failing to add the required chemicals to protect the water from the aging lead pipes that brought it into homes. The mistake exposed up to 12,000 children to lead and bacteria-infected water, and cost the state more than $600 million in settlement damages. Snyder and other administration officials were even charged criminally over the crisis, though it is unclear whether those charges will hold up. I think Snyder is a genuinely nice and smart guy who had enjoyed great success in business, but had no business running for governor. He was simply in over his head in government, and then failed to take seriously the concerns of the residents of Flint. It took a tragedy for the state to learn that success in business does not necessarily translate to success in government. After Snyder termed out, Michigan voters elected as their next governor Gretchen Whitmer, who has spent most of her career in state government, developing the expertise that is needed to lead.