Thursday, July 26, 2018

Timothy Taylor — The Need for Generalists

One of the many political cliches that makes me die a little bit inside is when someone claims that all we need to address a certain problem (health care, poverty, transportation, the Middle East, whatever) is to bring together a group of experts who will provide the common-sense solution that we have all been ignoring. But while bringing together a group of specialist experts can provide a great deal of information and insight, they are often not especially good at melding their specific insights into a general policy.
Why every policy design problem of any significant size needs the participation of a generalist. Who are the generalists? Some are philosophers, in that philosophy property conceived studies the whole in terms of systems and conceptual modeling. Others are general systems theorists and systems thinkers. Lawyers are also generalists in institutional design. These are the disciplines that currently produced generalists. 

Many generalists are also specialists in a particular field. Kenneth Boulding, a co-founder of General systems Theory was an economist. Another co-founder Ludwig von Bertalanffy, who conceived the concept, was a biologist. 

In addition, most policy issues concern values that fall outside the expertise of most specialists. Policy solutions must not only "work" but also be viable. To often, viability is not a concern in the articulation of the policy design problem.

Conversable Economist
The Need for Generalists
Timothy Taylor | Managing editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, based at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota


Noah Way said...

Generalist = arts degree.

Tom Hickey said...

Biology is an art?

Karl Ludwig von Bertalanffy (19 September 1901 – 12 June 1972) was an Austrian biologist known as one of the founders of general systems theory (GST). This is an interdisciplinary practice that describes systems with interacting components, applicable to biology, cybernetics and other fields. Bertalanffy proposed that the classical laws of thermodynamics applied to closed systems, but not necessarily to "open systems" such as living things. His mathematical model of an organism's growth over time, published in 1934, is still in use today.[1]


There are several important dichotomies in modeling, the first being static v. dynamic, and the second being mechanical v. organic.

GST is dynamic and organic.

There's a huge difference between building a bridge and managing the wellbeing of a complex adaptive system.

Most engineers trained in using the physical science don't know anything about complex adaptive systems and they are not trained to deal with them. It's not in the scope of their expertise.

Noah Way said...

I was hoping the village idiot would nibble the bait. Missed, darn it.