Admitting When You’re Wrong

Here is something that honest journalists (and scientists) understand and do, but which conservatives and the religious never do: admit they were wrong, and change their minds. That’s intellectual honesty.

Today’s NYT has a set of eight essays by its regular columnists explaining what they were wrong about, why, and how they’ve revised their opinions.

NYT, Paul Krugman, 21 July 2022: I Was Wrong About Inflation

A recurring theme, I’m guessing: “But what, exactly, did I get wrong? Both the initial debate and the way things have played out were more complicated than I suspect most people realize.” Life is more complicated than the black-and-white conservative thinkers appreciate.

As for inflation, everyone agreed about how basic economic forces interact.

Yet inflation soared anyway. Why?

Much, although not all, of the inflation surge seems to reflect disruptions associated with the pandemic. Fear of infection and changes in the way we live caused big shifts in the mix of spending: People spent less money on services and more on goods, leading to shortages of shipping containers, overstressed port capacity, and so on. These disruptions help explain why inflation rose in many countries, not just in the United States.

In any case, the whole experience has been a lesson in humility. Nobody will believe this, but in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis standard economic models performed pretty well, and I felt comfortable applying those models in 2021. But in retrospect I should have realized that, in the face of the new world created by Covid-19, that kind of extrapolation wasn’t a safe bet.


David Brooks, on Capitalism, ends with a basic principle that everyone should know how to apply.

Sometimes in life you should stick to your worldview and defend it against criticism. But sometimes the world is genuinely different than it was before. At those moments the crucial skills are the ones nobody teaches you: how to reorganize your mind, how to see with new eyes.


And Farhad Manjoo regrets, back in 2009, urging everyone to join Facebook.

I didn’t consider the far-reaching implications of Facebook’s ubiquity.

During the first decade of the new millennium, the tech industry exploded with a slew of new inventions. In addition to the rise of social networks, the 2000s brought us “user-generated” content sites like Flickr, YouTube and Reddit; powerful cloud-based applications like Gmail, Google Maps and, for developers, Amazon Web Services; digital media services like the iTunes Store and Netflix’s online streaming service; and, with the release in 2007 of Apple’s iPhone, widespread internet access through touch-screen phones.


This problem, the tech behemoths’ power, was fostered in the Obama administration. It’s a direct result of the vibe I describe — the feeling that tech people knew what they were doing, that they were the good guys, that their inventions were going to save the day. Obama’s regulators allowed Facebook to buy up its biggest competitors — first Instagram, then WhatsApp — and failed to crack down on its recklessness with users’ private data.


I wish I could tell you that I criticized these mergers and the Obama White House’s intimacy with tech, but, like many others in the press, I didn’t until many years later. In the late 2000s and early 2010s I was far too timid about tech’s growing power; I saw it happening but only rarely pointed out its dangers. I regret that.



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