A case of motivated reasoning

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A case of motivated reasoning


Kim Dong-ho
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

President Moon Jae-in recently swapped his senior secretary for policy amid dour economic prospects. But does that mean his new aide will introduce new policies to revive the economy? Not really. There’s a very small — if any — chance that the new secretary, who previously led the Fair Trade Commission, will do that. Kim Sang-jo has a notorious track record for going hard on conglomerates. The day he was appointed to his new post, he said he would largely “maintain” the present policies of the Moon Blue House.

Kim met rumors that the presidential senior secretary actually leads economic policies by praising Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki and referring to himself as nothing more than “a logistics base aide.” Kim’s predecessors, Jang Ha-sung and Kim Su-hyun, said much the same, insisting too that the finance minister was in control of economic policy. But reality suggests a very different dynamic. The Blue House’s three main economic policies have remained intact. The so-called income-led growth policy and fair economy policy have discouraged local businesses, and the innovative growth policy hasn’t yielded any tangible achievements for over two years.

Moon has done it again with his “revolving door appointment.” In a democratic society, the selected few hold the right to appoint whomever they think is eligible to carry out their policies. The problem is that if that group keeps recruiting like-minded people, they could have a higher chance of failing to think outside the box, which may lead to bad decisions.

Moreover, members in such a revolving door appointment system tend to lose the confidence to sometimes say no to thoughts they don’t agree with because they develop a sense of kinship to other members. And when members start to unconditionally agree to one another, it makes it harder for them to freely share what they actually feel inside. Then they begin to ignore what other people outside that group think and increasingly indulge in whatever conclusions are reached within that small group.

In her 1990 paper entitled “The Case for Motivated Reasoning,” Ziva Kunda, a former professor of psychology at Princeton University, explained that motivation may affect reasoning through reliance on a biased set of cognitive processes, like strategies for accessing, constructing and evaluating beliefs. “The motivation to be accurate enhances use of those beliefs and strategies that are considered most appropriate, whereas the motivation to arrive at particular conclusions enhances use of those that are considered most likely to yield the desired conclusion,” wrote Kunda.

Jin Nyum, former deputy prime minister of the economy, recently pointed out during a local seminar that the government, political circles, businesses and workers should all take part in economic reform, adding that if politicians and government officials try to draw reform plans on their own and force others to follow them, the Korean economy won’t be able to achieve a breakthrough. The Blue House must heed Jin’s advice. Moon has had three senior policy secretaries including his current one, yet the nation’s top office has never publicly discussed a change in its economic statecraft.

A part of Kunda’s paper says that motivated reasoning makes people develop “unrealistically positive views” about themselves due to the resulting illusions. This explains why Moon refuses to ditch his economic policies and, instead, urges his aides to “explain their positive effects well to the public.” Moon is flagrantly ignoring the side effects and choosing to justify his decisions by focusing on a few good economic indicators — which goes to show how his revolving door appointments are deepening his motivated reasoning.
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