instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

The Tyranny of the Experts: How Professionals and Specialists Are Closing the Open Society

Walker and Co., 1970, 320pp.

This book began as a senior thesis at Yale. I was originally drawn to it by an interest in how "private power" assumed, drew on, or took control of public power to prevent, deter, and redress harmful outcomes of ordinary, everyday activities of life. The topic of "the public and the private" was much on my mind when a year after publication I wrote the proposal for the book that would eventually become Liberalism Undressed. I rewrote the college thesis twice before it was published six years later. The title was bestowed by the publisher; my working title had always been "Rule by Experts." It drew a fair amount of attention, and I found myself on several radio and TV talk shows, because of its description of how occupational groups, like beauticians and lawn cutters, were then seeking control over their businesses by successfully lobbying state capitals for licensing authority. I wrote to all 50 governors in 1965 and received personal letters back from more than half, almost all of whom decried the power plays by professional and occupational groups that seemed to be a part of their political lives. The book coined the phrase "inconspicuous production," to describe the work that a lot of so-called professionals claimed to do; the term was of course a deliberate counterpoint to Thorstein Veblen's immortal "conspicuous consumption." I do regret one relatively small section in which as a twenty-something I fell for the bravado surrounding the work of Immanuel Velikovsky. The book could have done without it and I'd be less embarrassed decades later.

From the jacket flap
In a detailed analysis of the rise of the professional class in the United States, Jethro K. Lieberman describes how we have turned over to others the power to make many of our most important decisions — from the governmental to the personal. Far from shunning such responsibilities, these modern-day guilds have vigorously sought to establish themselves as untrammeled arbiters in a host of activities. Lieberman explores the subtle ways in which licensing, self-regulation, elaborate codes of ethics, and even the educational system provide the professional with not only a good image but high profits and a shield from public scrutiny and interference.

From the reviewers

"This is a sound and penetrating critique of professional groups, notably doctors and lawyers but also architects, barbers, morticians, plumbers, real estate agents and others. It is Lieberman's thesis, sharply developed, that professionals and trade specialists exercise arbitrary powers in their own self-interest — usually at the expense of the consumer. . . . His corrective proposals make sense."

Publishers Weekly

"The issue of lawyers' price-fixing is not unique. Jethro Lieberman's valuable book, The Tyranny of the Experts, elaborates these professional restrictions by which members create their own monopoly."
Mark Green, The New Republic