The Age/Authority Hierarchy

entrepreneurship organizations

Tue Jun 09 00:12:19 -0700 2009

In a slowly changing society, which is to say almost all of human history, older people, while they may not run as fast or even think as fast as younger people, knew more. So it makes sense to have institutional structures in which, on average, older people have authority over younger people.
As the rate of change increases, so does the rate at which knowledge depreciates. The head of the research department knows much more about vacuum tubes than the young engineers whose work she supervises, but they are not researching vacuum tubes. The judge in a software patent infringement case knows a great deal about patent law, but he knows much less about software than either plaintiff or defendant. To some extend he can lean on the knowledge of other people, such as his law clerks, or make himself a temporary expert with the help of briefs provided by both sides; the problem of judicial ignorance of the substance of what is being litigated over is not a new one. But the faster the world is changing, the more ignorant the people in authority are likely to be, hence the more likely to make serious errors in their decisions.

From Future Imperfect by David Friedman