‘Politically orchestrated groupthink’ [Ruth Lea]

This is what Ruth Lea, a pro Brexit economist of some prior distinction, dubbed the apparent agreement of the overwhelming majority of economists, and the HMT/IMF/OECD/NIESR cabal, who happen to think that Brexit will be costly.  This morning, on Twitter again, Ruth dubbed the IFS study that repeated the same message, ‘tired groupthink’.

If you think about it, this is a pretty strange argument.  The majority think one thing;  I, in the minority, think another.  Therefore this shows that the majority must be prey to the intellectual frailties of peer-pressure and political influence, while I, with few analytical friends, retain a rare clarity about the truth.

How many other areas of life would this logic extend to?  The debate about the benefits of the MMR vaccine combination?  Climate change?  The economic benefits of democracy?

Ponder a moment, and most of our conduct in life is our response to an interlocking series of consensuses.  That tell us that the chance of a plane crashing is vanishingly small;  that taxes and public services are good, democracy is good, the risks of crossing the road are acceptable;  that car seatbelts help avoid death;  that filling our face with cream buns is bad for us.  I would like to see Ruth and the other Brexiteers who have flung the ‘groupthink’ label [Gerard Lyons, John Redwood…] write diaries for us, so we can see whether they apply consistently this theory of the wisdom of the minority.  If they do, I feel sorry for them, for life under this regime must be extremely impractical  and hazardous.

I’m curious too as to what the minority have about them that makes them less prone to losing their way like the rest of us?  How do we tell that they are less ‘orchestrated’ or ‘tired’ or ‘groupthinking’?  Knowing the answer to these things would no doubt help the rest of us fortify ourselves against losing our way next time.

I also wonder just how this political orchestration is meant to have come about?  What would the BoE Governor, and his Monetary and Financial Policy Committees have to gain by agreeing to it?  If there was an effort at improper orchestration, why did the one dissenting member of the FPC on the matter not refer to it?  And how did the orchestration extend to the other independent research bodies?  Or to the 288 of us who signed that letter?  Was it so sophisticated that we are somehow unaware of it?  Does this claim invoke a peculiar Brexiteer variety of the false-consciousness that the Marxians are fond of?  If it does not, do the Brexiteer conspiracists not realise that for most economists, they have little to sell but their reputation for competence and integrity, and that the risk of being implicated in such an analytical heist would be financially disastrous?

[Added later, at suggestion of Sid Verma]  I’d also add that on many matters, the overwhelming majority of anti-Brexit economists being slandered here disagree.  As I pointed out in my Telegraph article, there are heated debates about methodology [heterodox or not], austerity [did the Coalition over do it or not?], monetary policy [are interest rates now too low or not, noting that both Sentance and Blanchflower signed our letter] and more.  So, if this is groupthink, it’s like the intellectual equivalent of a neutron bomb, leaving the powers of independent thought over all other ideas strangely unimpaired.

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13 Responses to ‘Politically orchestrated groupthink’ [Ruth Lea]

  1. Jonathan Hoffman says:

    Ruth has been a Eurosceptic for at least 30 years …

  2. Economic Sophisms says:

    Got anything to say in defence of the EU m8? Or just want to write a few hundred words about a tweet?

    The fact that you go to deliberately misunderstanding the reason why Lea used the word “groupthink”, rather than show why it’s not groupthink, is telling.

  3. andrew adams says:

    How many other areas of life would this logic extend to? The debate about the benefits of the MMR vaccine combination? Climate change? The economic benefits of democracy?

    Actually, exactly the same argument is used by some climate change “sceptics” to describe the scientific consensus on that subject. Which isn’t that surprising given the big overlap between them and the Brexit camp.

  4. Luis Enrique says:

    so, as a rule, the majority believes X because X is true. But, I contend, there can also be situations in which groups enter into a sort of mass confirmation bias dynamic, and certain beliefs become things which everybody holds to be true because everybody holds them to be true, and then later turn out not be. I am struggling to think of a good example – perhaps there are examples from my own milieu “development” policy, which seems to cycle through fads over the decade.

    On the basis of this post, I cannot see Lea has any basis for saying remain economists are examples of this, nor that you really address the question of whether they are or not.

    But I do not think that holding an opinion “this widely held position is an example of group think” equals “a theory of the wisdom of the minority”.

    I agree that people who claim the special ability to see what others do not, are suspect, but then in a sense we all do that, whenever we disagree with a widely-held view.

  5. bob says:

    I guess she’s just sure you’re all wrong, and think’s groupthink’s the best explanation for this? Which, if you are wrong, would seem a reasonable starting point for why you’re all wrong.

    (I think you’re probably right)

  6. am says:

    Redwood doesn’t address group think but the track record of forecasting and political orchestration.

  7. Adrian D. says:

    Just for a little context, could you perhaps give us an estimation of how many of the 280 signatories predicted the severity of the 2008 crash? Or which of them continue to actively (and uncritically) teach neoclassical economic theory to their students?

    You’ve mentioned a couple of heterodox signatories, but I don’t think that’s enough to prove your case.


  8. Adrian D. says:

    I’m sorry you’ve not had the time to respond to my question for a bit of context regarding the 280+ signatories of the letter. Your Telegraph article states ‘quite a few’ heterodox economists, which is pretty meaningless I’m afraid.

    In a recent Radio 4 episode of ‘In Business’ Ha-Joon Chang (not a signatory) estimated that of the 30 or so economists teaching at Cambridge, only he and one other, might be of a non-neo-classical persuasion (and that the other one was about to retire).

    If any of the (soft) sciences has a case to answer about group-think (politically orchestrated or otherwise) it’s yours I’m afraid.

    As for nothing to sell but reputations for competence and integrity – can you point to any cases where significantly inaccurate forecasts or perhaps claims that ‘this time it’s different’ have ever led to deleterious effects on a career?

    • Tony Yates says:

      You haven’t asked any questions. You have made a bunch of ignorant assertions dressed up as questions. If you want to find things out, ask questions. If you want to debate, pick a topic, unlike this one, that you know something about.

      • Adrian D. says:

        You are completely right to slap me down as you have – I’m guilty of pretty much all of your charges and apologise for not paying you the courtesy of being more precise and less loaded with my requests.

        I’m afraid that your post here, and the mentioned Telegraph article just pressed too many of my buttons and I responded incoherently.

        Notwithstanding the fact that I have already made a complete fool of myself, I would still like a little context for the post addressing these points (for a correspondent with more than a little knowledge of psychology and statistics):

        Over 280 signatories is indeed very impressive and I’m happy to take your word that this is, as you say, an overwhelming majority (it certainly dwarfs any such support for Brexit), but can you give us some idea of the size of the population from which it is sampled? Just how many academic economists of suitable standing are there in the UK that might have been aware of the letter?

        Also as you have drawn support for the validity of the assertions by stating that quite a few heterodox economists have signed. I’d be really grateful for your estimate of exactly how many this actually means and also for a view of their prevalence in the population of UK economists as a whole.

        For what it’s worth, I don’t disagree with the content of the letter at all.

        Many thanks.

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