Arnold Kling  

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From Tyler Cowen:


If your blogging or writing doesn't increase the degree of trust among people who do not agree with each other, probably you are lowering the chance for better policy, not increasing it, no matter what you perceive yourself as saying.

It is easy to write in such a way as to drive people apart. But how would you do the opposite?

Think of an organization in which groups are often at odds. For example, there is often friction between sales and finance/accounting. The two functions tend to select for different personalities. Often, you can improve sales by spending more, while you improve your financial statements by spending less, so there is inherent conflict. How do you foster trust between the two groups? You can focus on a common enemy, such as the firm that is your main competitor. You can create "joint teams" by undertaking new projects that involve sales and finance working together. You can try to design the incentive structure in the organization in order to minimize friction (give the finance people bonuses based on sales volume and the sales people bonuses based on cost control, instead of the other way around).

I am not sure what the analogy is in the overall political/economic/social environment. The notion that World War II might have increased trust within the United States keeps popping into my head, to my discomfiture.


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COMMENTS (16 to date)
Chris writes:

You can also try to persuade using the language of your adversary. In the corporate world, if you understand the motivations of the people you are trying to convince, then you are far more likely to succeed.
We spend a lot of time war-planning on what the complaints/objections will be and build our persuasion around that.

Greg G writes:

We can write in a way that promotes agreement by not questioning the motives or the intelligence of the people we are trying to convince. Sometimes their motives and intelligence really are questionable. More often, we don't know them and are simply making unsupported assumptions when attacking motives and intelligence. Either way, it shuts down any chance of convincing our opponents of anything.

Tyler actually does write without insulting anyone and that is a big part of the reason he has more influence outside of the GMU community than most of the rest of that community.

Greg G writes:

Hayek was another one that wrote in this style. That was a big part of why he has been so influential. He routinely assumed good faith on the part of the people he was trying to convince. He simply argued that their policies would not have the effect that they intended.

tom writes:

It may be discomfiting, but this is why everyone who wants unity comes to the idea of aliens attacking Earth. Again and again.

Please come, aliens!

(Also, please don't be strong enough to kill us all instantly. Please have a fatal weakness despite your awful superiority. And please don't be more attractive than we are using our own standards of beauty--creepy and lizard-like would be great.)

Daniel Kuehn writes:

re: "It is easy to write in such a way as to drive people apart. But how would you do the opposite?"

Not obnoxiously referring to the "lunatic left" might be a good start.

Marcus writes:

"Not obnoxiously referring to the "lunatic left" might be a good start."

Hear, hear! It was almost as if Cowen was speaking directly to Kling...

Jeff writes:

Assuming good faith in the opposition is certainly a must. One thing I want to point out, though, is that if you consistently use the language and terminology of the opposition, you may run the risk of alienating your allies. They will start to assume you are no longer on their side, or, at the very least, aren't very committed to their side.

bryan willman writes:

i actually think it would be more useful to focus on the undecided than on trying to "bring people together"

not only financial incentives but matters of personal identity drive hardened positions. they are all but impossible to overcome.

i also think that "trust" is by definition a slowly developed thing - and so to the extent that recovery of faith and trust are required for economic recovery, it will be slow, regardless of what anybody writes or does.

Becky Hargrove writes:

The thing that is truly impossible about the present: the lack of any real balance of power between parties, as service economies have become more important for overall wealth. They should never have been built in such a way as to be dependent on the production efficiencies of manufacturing and building, and teasing those elements apart now feels like a nightmare. But it has to be done, to restore balance of power between parties, or a lot of wealth is ultimately going to be lost.

Richard Fazzone writes:

"The notion that World War II might have increased trust within the United States keeps popping into my head, to my discomfiture."

Arnold, you're getting close; both trust in government (Tyler's focus) and political consensus increased during World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, the struggle for civil rights, and the Cold War. The reason was that those problems and their solutions were existential and common to virtually all Americans. In this new political era, no major problem or solution affects a majority of Americans in the same galvanizing way. Whatever one’s interest or position on a political issue, it’s in the minority,* and trust in government and political consensus suffer.

Will this change? Yes, if problems and solutions should ever again become existential and common to virtually all Americans (to all our discomfiture), or, more hopefully, if to most Americans, they become relatively meaningless (my guess).


*See, also, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/seems-like-no-one-can-seal-the-deal/2011/07/01/AGvSYuwH_story.html

Jeff writes:
If your blogging or writing doesn't increase the degree of trust among people who do not agree with each other, probably you are lowering the chance for better policy, not increasing it, no matter what you perceive yourself as saying.

As a GMU'er, shouldn't Tyler know that the primary purpose of blogging isn't to change people's minds, but to increase your status among people who already agree with you?

Salem writes:

But is the fall in trust an arbitrary shift between equilibria, or was the old, higher-trust equilibrium unstable?

In Tyler's terms, we are not as trustworthy as we thought we were.

Seth writes:

Sticks and stones.

How about people who don't agree and don't trust each other just present their cases?

Joe Cushing writes:

As a person with a degree in finance I have to say there is a difference between finance and accounting. You have grouped them together and often companies do too. I say you can solve your problem by not hiring an accountant to do your finance work. Finance people look to the future. Accountants just add up what is there in front of them. Finance people understand that an investment in more sales hurts today's bottom line but the NPV of that investment may be larger than what goes in today's statements. In other words, the finance person understands that the company becomes worth more today as a result of future income and that value doesn't get recorded in the ledger until some time in the future.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

Is it not the "age-old" art of first discerning then explaining such commonalities as may be shared?

Does it not require observance that while there may be some degree of commonality in one particular, the divergences are most often wider, and thus more difficult to bridge with a narrow link of commonality?

Shane L writes:

Talk about the various biases that people tend to be prone to, which hamper our ability to think with open minds, and admit to being vulnerable to them yourselves. I think Econlog does do that sometimes, which is good.

Just be human: ask questions, admit confusions or doubts and own up to past mistakes. While many politicians seem to go for feigned confidence, I find that insincere and unconvincing. I would be much more open to someone who is knowledgeable, but open to being challenged and corrected. I suspect that would be more persuasive for fairly well-informed people with different economic or political opinions, too.

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