Down with GROUP-THINK, down!
January 4, 2014
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I found this small gem written by Milton Friedman, one of the icons of economics and a Nobel Prize winner. I think we must all take it to heart, so my New Year resolution is to avoid “group-think” – the opiate of the lazy classes!
In 1974 Friedman wrote an essay titled “Schools at Chicago” that includes the following passage:
” In 1964–to the disgust and dismay of most of my academic friends–I served as an economic adviser to Barry Goldwater during his quest for the Presidency. That year also, I was a Visiting Professor at Columbia University. The two together gave me a rare entree into the New York intellectual community. I talked to and argued with groups from academia, from the media, from the financial community, from the foundation world, from you name it. I was appalled at what I found. There was an unbelievable degree of intellectual homogeneity, of acceptance of a standard set of views complete with cliché answers to every objection, of smug self-satisfaction at belonging to an in-group. The closest similar experience I have ever had was at Cambridge, England, and even that was a distant second.
The homogeneity and provincialism of the New York intellectual community made them pushovers in discussions about Goldwater’s views. They had cliché answers but only to their self-created straw-men. To exaggerate only slightly, they had never talked to anyone who really believed, and had thought deeply about, views drastically different from their own. As a result, when they heard real arguments instead of caricatures, they had no answers, only amazement that such views could be expressed by someone who had the external characteristics of being a member of the intellectual community, and that such views could be defended with apparent cogency. Never have I been more impressed with the advice I once received: “You cannot be sure that you are right unless you understand the arguments against your views better than your opponents do.”