Changing minds

As other bloggers said last week, I survived the cull of middle-aged men living in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra to be selected for the 2020 talkfest. I’m in the stream called ‘productivity agenda – education, skills, training, science and innovation’.

According to the invitation letter I received today, I have to wait for a password before I know how this will all actually work. In the meantime, they are asking all participants to answer two questions in 100 words or less:

1. If you could do one thing in your stream area, what would it be? What is is that you think would make the most difference?

2. What issue have you changed your mind about in the last ten years? What changed your mind? (that’s a paraphrase).

Except for the word limit, the answer to the first question will be easy: higher education themes very familiar to readers of this blog.

The second one is much harder, for me and many other participants I expect. Issues usually involve normative elements, and these tend to be more stable than the facts and evidence that might cause arguments to be modified. On the issues likely to be discussed in this stream, I don’t think I have changed my basic position in the last ten years.

And if most participants are like me, will the 2020 discussions have any chance of reaching consensus?

30 thoughts on “Changing minds

  1. Any suggestions?
    Of course. You could say that “I always thought that there was an appropriate number for everything, even grief, ’till I read of the feelings of the relatives of the HMAS Sydney, when the location of the wreck was discovered. I realised that human feelings are much too complex and varied to be reduced to a timeline: “that’s enough grieving now”. I have resolved to read more biographies and watch every Oprah Winfrey program.


  2. What happened? There you were asking for suggestions for a confessional piece on how you had changed your mind on something …. and now the invitation has been withdrawn.

    Are you really meant to come to ‘consensus’?


  3. Sorry Russell, I thought better of the section in which finished with asking for suggestions for topics on which I had changed my mind, though thanks for the free advice.


  4. Oh I see, you’ve clarified that your mind-changing experience has to be related to your ‘stream’.
    Surely you had given up all hope when you saw that education was placed under the category of “productivity agenda” ??


  5. I have no idea what we are supposed to do, as I have not received my password. But I am guessing that the question about mind changing is loaded: that it is priming us to be open to changing our views to reach agreement.

    Even outside my stream, I don’t think I have changed much. I probably have views on some things that were contrary to my initial intuitions, but that barely qualifies as changing my mind.


  6. Andrew, I find it hard to believe that even you have not been wrong about anything in the last 10 years. I thought it was a good question to ask and I will be very interested in reading responses.

    Once I get my wording right I will post my “wrong to changed mind” thing on my blog; and it has to do with education.


  7. Joshua – There is a difference between wrong – making factual errors, offering incorrect analysis or predictions – and changing my mind on an issue, which I would take as altering my substantive view on some point of public contention.

    For example, more than one person has reminded me of this spectacularly wrong assessment of Kevin Rudd’s likely popularity. But I have not personally been caught up in Ruddmania.

    The only possibility that comes to mind is Iraq.
    In 2003 I thought the risks of doing nothing in Iraq probably outweighed the risks of doing something, which in hindsight I think was a wrong judgment, but I said nothing in public because I wasn’t expert and because there were large risks either way. Despite the temptations of instant blog commentary, I am fairly careful in what I say.


  8. Andrew, I think your last anecdote on Iraq sounds an awful lot like you’ve changed your mind, however you want to conceptualise it. 🙂

    Anyway, I am sure the summit will be more worthwhile for your input. I don’t think consensus is the point of the exercise anyway, and any expectation that it is possible given the relatively broad collection of folks invited (including some with a vested interest in jeopardising the summit) is probably misplaced.


  9. Andrew, I know you’re not this type of person, but I would be tempted to turn down the invitation (did you apply or were you nominated?) to give it a big ‘up yours’. I can’t help thinking you’ll be spending your time backward stage diving into each other’s arms and holding hands singing ‘Kumbayah’.


  10. Rajat, there’s no need to sook. Not everyone can be the best and brightest.

    This summit is already having the effect of right wingers who weren’t invited slagging off the ring wingers who were. Sell outs! Quislings! Traitors!

    What’s going to happen after Miranda Devine et al are photographed arm in arm with Kevin, Julia, Tim Costello, Philip Adams and David Marr?


  11. Andrew, just wondering if you’ll be changing the tagline of your site to “Observations from the 2020 Summit’s lone classical liberal”.


  12. “At least Robert Manne will have no trouble with the question on changing his mind.”

    Indeed, he will be spoilt for choice.

    But it’s good that people admit they are wrong, when they are shown to be wrong.


  13. It struck me that speaking rights could be at a premium at the Summit (notionally, if each member of a group spoke for ten minutes, that would be around 16 hours – pretty much the two days’ worth) – or is there some other approach (pre-summit winnowing for example). Does seem a great networking opportunity though assuming people don’t have to sit still all day.


  14. Rajat – I’m still in the sceptic’s camp on whether this summit can achieve much, or indeed anything, in public policy terms. But in the end I decided that it was better for me to turn up than let the rent-seekers have their views uncontested in a forum likely to attract publicity, and that even if (as John of Newtown suggests) I only get 10 minutes to talk there will still be networking opportunities that might be helpful. The worst case scenario is that I catch up with people I know, which is not so bad. (Pearcey – there are at least 3 others who I think would qualify as ‘classical liberals’.)

    Spiros – It is good to admit you are wrong if that is necessary. But better to avoid mistakes in the first place. Re Guy’s point, I did not say anything about Iraq at the time because I thought there was a good chance I would be shown to be wrong, as indeed turned out to be the case.


  15. Spiros says:

    “But it’s good that people admit they are wrong, when they are shown to be wrong.”

    Yea, but we’ve been waiting for your admission for years, Spiros.


  16. Australia’s best and brightest should have been measured objectively, and it shouldn’t have been an arbitrary number like 1000.

    For example, since there no Australian economists who have won the Nobel Prize, there should have been no economists invited (or, if there are non-government prizes in Australia for economists, only the winners of those prizes should have been invited).

    Using objective non-government measures will wittle down the list of ‘best and brightest’ to a more accurate number of 100. These sort of talkfests should at least be realistic about the intellectual talent in Australia as compared to the powerhouses in the UK, US and rest of the world.

    And why are so many politicians invited? I’m generalising, but most politicians know how to speak well and build coalitions by compromising their principles for votes… but that doesn’t mean they know how to fix Australia’s problems. And besides, they get enough airtime for their ideas already.


  17. Sukrit – Even as a participant, I only have a vague idea about how this weekend in Canberra will operate. But I can’t see the logic in inviting only Nobel prize winners or other prizes, when the most important ideas in economics aren’t the innovations which win people Nobel prizes, but the basic concepts and methods every economics undergraduate learns.


  18. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “It seems to me that at this time we need education in the obvious more than the investigation of the obscure.”


  19. Andrew, congratulations on your selection.

    (I’m a bit surprised though. From reading your blog, you seem best as a good communicator of existing ideas in a generally intelligent and thoughtful way. Sort of like a thinking man’s Paddy McGuinness. We don’t always agree, but, you’re able to put up well defined reasons for your opinions.)

    If there’s one thing you can do, try to make sure that each participant puts a view of something outside their usual comfort zone. That’s the only way the forum will generate any genuinely new, fresh ideas. Otherwise, it’ll just be the usual talkfest with the same old topics and the same old end results.

    Best of luck with the Summit.


  20. “From reading your blog, you seem best as a good communicator of existing ideas in a generally intelligent and thoughtful way.”

    Pete – It depends what you mean by ‘existing ideas’. The broad intellectual framework I work from is far from original. But I apply it in contexts that other people do not. I’m the only higher education policy specialist from a market perspective, and indeed one of a very small number of people who write about higher education from any expertise-based perspective. I presume that’s the main reason I was invited to 2020.

    Similarly, I don’t collect original data. But I do report lots of data that is unreported or unanalysed elsewhere.


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