Letter to the Editor: The Dunning-Kruger Effect in Edmonton and Ottawa

Norm Baker was the founding chairman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He was a dirt-poor farm kid who joined the navy during WWII. After the war, he came home and learned to be an electrician, eventually starting his own company, Baker’s Electric, which at one point employed more than 100 people.

Baker had a self-proclaimed rule about politicians and people he’d vote for, saying that he didn’t think anyone should run for office who had never had to deal with a dissatisfied customer and an unhappy employee at the same time. He said that political ambition could never be a substitute for experience, and that electing people to run the government you’d never hire to run your own business was madness.

Justin Trudeau is an example of the kind of guy Norm was talking about. Trudeau has never managed anything. Twice he started university degree programs only to quit a year later. He is not a seasoned individual, nor does he possess what one might call acumen or business savvy. The result is that he’s implementing a crippling tax on Canada’s middle class that will destroy jobs and further encourage investors and entrepreneurs to go elsewhere.

Trudeau is an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect in action. The Dunning-Kruger effect is named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger, two Cornell University psychologists who explained how people can be totally and even blissfully unaware of their own incompetence, yet at the same time, have enormous confidence in their ability. The reason these people are so self-confident is that they don’t know enough about what they’re doing to understand their own limitations and inabilities.

In other words, Dunning-Kruger establishes the fact that for many people, the less they know about what they’re doing, the more likely they are to assume that they’re capable of things they’re not.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is also alive and well in Alberta. Major government departments are run by individuals who mistake their enthusiasm and ideological purity for competence. The result is that Alberta is borrowing with abandon. The Notley government has already trashed the province’s excellent credit rating, while ensuring that taxpayers will owe more than $100 billion by 2012.

At the same time, the Alberta government has bragged that nearly 49,000 jobs were created over the last year, but it turns out that this so-called employment “recovery” is just another symptom of Dunning-Kruger. In a news story titled “Alberta’s Job Mirage,” the Financial Post reports that almost all the “new” jobs in Alberta (41,900 of the 48,500) are in the public sector, financed by multibillion-dollar deficits.

Rachel Notley claims that balancing the provincial budget would be an act of cruelty. So instead of looking for fiscal balance, she and Finance Minister Joe Ceci have taken out credit cards in the name of Alberta’s young people. They are piling up billions in debt that future taxpayers will pay, all because the NDP government chooses to suffer under the delusions of the Dunning-Kruger effect, rather than partake of the common-sense thinking that characterizes good government.

Would responsible adults behave in this manner with their own credit cards?  Not a chance. Yet when it comes to many people in government, Dunning-Kruger takes over, thereby ensuring that folly and outright incompetence can be passed off as political wisdom.

–Kevin Avram

Avram is a director of the Grassroots Alberta Initiative. He was the founder, developer, and is the former CEO of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.