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Experts and Inequality

When the economist and investor Sir William Petty was tasked with surveying large swaths of army land, much of which lay fallow, in seventeenth-century Ireland, he ended up personally owning much of it. The "Petty problem" is alive and well today.

NEW YORK – Ten years ago this month, the world glimpsed the first clear signals of an economic crisis that, a year later, would be in full swing, creating economic hardship of a kind not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The deep recession that followed the near-collapse of the global financial system in 2008 caught nearly everyone by surprise – including the experts who were presumably the best equipped to see it coming.

In November 2008, less than two months after the failure of the US investment bank Lehman Brothers, a visibly irate Queen Elizabeth II, visiting the London School of Economics, famously asked, “Why did nobody notice it?”

Over the last decade, a range of answers has been offered, with experts being blamed for arrogance, complicity, or being just plain overrated. And the context was dire, with jobs lost and balance sheets shrinking. The queen’s own personal wealth had fallen by £25 million ($32.1 million) since the start of the crisis (though the decline was from a very high base.)

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