This is an audio transcript of the FT Weekend podcast episode: Martin Wolf on how to change one’s mind

Lilah Raptopoulos
I was thinking about that old adage, if you’re under 30 and not a liberal, you have no heart. If you’re over 30 and not a conservative, you have no brain. What do you think of it?

Martin Wolf
I would say that’s an American saying, because in our sense, a liberal and a conservative are not opposed. I would consider myself, in many ways, a liberal-conservative. I have found, though, if, if you look at this in the broad.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Sure.

Martin Wolf
I, I probably ended up, as I said, very close to where I started. So I’ve done a full circle of the kind.

Lilah Raptopoulos
That’s Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator at the Financial Times. Martin is one of the most influential economics journalists in the world. And he’s been reflecting recently on his political opinions over the last 50 plus years. He’s realised that his mind has changed. He thinks society is more important and pure individualism is less productive than he used to.

Martin Wolf
So I don’t fit into this adage. Uhh, I, I perhaps I’ve lived long enough that there’s a third stage that you show after 30, you become a conservative and then after you’re 60 you realise that both are right some of the time. And the, the key to making sense of the world is working out which one is right, when.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Martin was an active leftwing Labour supporter throughout his young adulthood. As he studied economics, that shifted. He started thinking that a stable democracy needs a market economy. So he saw markets as the self-correcting machines that could always balance out supply with demand. But over the years, his thoughts on that have changed, too.

Martin Wolf
We are learning all the time, and if I’m not learning and developing what I think as I’m doing what I do, then I’m useless. That’s why I distinguish. My core values haven’t changed. But if somebody says to me, well, economics suggested A, B, and C, now that we look at the evidence, we realise that A, B and C are true. So one of the better way of thinking about it, that’s a living subject. That’s a living analysis. I would like to be part of the living.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Lilah Raptopoulos
Today, I talk with Martin about how to form a worldview and then how to say, actually, I think differently now. Then Courtney Weaver joins to tell me about a parenting craze on Instagram called gentle parenting. There’s no punishments, there’s no bribery. And the question is whether gentle parenting is helpful, whether it’s harmful or honestly, whether it’s even possible. This is FT weekend. I’m Lilah Raptopoulos.

[MUSIC FADES]

Lilah Raptopoulos
Martin, hi, welcome to the show. It’s a pleasure to have you on. A few weeks ago, you were in the New York newsroom and we were talking and you said that over the years you found that your, your politics has changed, your opinions have changed, that you felt that you’ve changed your mind. And I found that really interesting. And I’m curious if you could tell me about that, what you meant by that.

Martin Wolf
The question you asked is a very good one. And so the important point is I started studying economics in my 21st year at Oxford, and I started my professional career in the World Bank in 1971. So I’ve been doing this in different ways and different environments for half a century, which is absurd. And one advantage of this is I’ve got a fair amount of experience and I’ve seen a lot, which is very, very helpful. And I shudder to think what I thought 50 years ago because it was basically what I’d been taught in university. I become convinced that we needed to rely more on markets.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Martin held this view throughout the 1980s as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were implementing policies that freed markets from government regulation, lowered taxes, broke down unions. This was around the time he joined the FT in 1987.

Martin Wolf
So I was pretty convinced of the case for moving towards markets and globalisation, as it’s now called, integration through trade, trade-led development and privatisation properly done. So I was very sympathetic to the broad thrust of policymaking in the eighties and nineties in those directions, and I thought they would work better and in some places they clearly did. There’s no doubt. But that was my view of how the world would work. Over the last 25 years, probably, I’m actually more about 27 years, starting with the financial crisis, particularly the financial crisis, the mid-nineties, the Asian financial crisis. I changed my views on how these would work and in a number of dimensions.

Lilah Raptopoulos
I’m curious about the moment when you realise you’ve changed your mind. Does it feel, is this gradual? Was it sort of sudden and revelatory? Was it changing global policy or research personal life experience?

Martin Wolf
It’s very interesting and I’m not entirely sure. Well, big crisis. If you’re writing about. Yeah. Force you to work out very, very quickly what you think.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Yeah.

Martin Wolf
And if you’re forced to think, to work out very, very quickly what you think and it turns out that it changes what you thought last week or two weeks ago or three weeks ago. Then you change your minds very, very quickly. There have been two big moments. The first was the Asian financial crisis, and the second was the global financial crisis to 2007 to 2009 became obvious to me that the financial system could not be viewed simply in this sort of market construct way. It has suffered from radical, systemic instabilities which were built into the way our financial system had developed. You know, we’d had more than 100 banking crises, and pretty obviously it was a big problem. But in August, September of 2007, I came to the conclusion, and by the end of that year, it was obvious, that the wheels had come off the system.

Lilah Raptopoulos
In 2007, as the housing bubble burst, millions of Americans found themselves owing more than their homes were worth. An unregulated financial market brought the entire global banking system to almost complete collapse, and Martin was proven wrong. The market had not balanced out supply and demand.

Martin Wolf
If you’re broadly pro-market and you find that the entire financial system, the core financial system has to be rescued by the state. Then you, if you don’t change your mind about pretty fundamental things, you’re not thinking, it seems to me, and if you are thinking and responding, you have to say, well, we’ve had to do this. If we have to do that, then we have to rethink the relationship with the markets and state big time.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Martin had also held this belief for years that economics and politics were separate. That we could treat economic policy and the stability of our political system as essentially independent.

Martin Wolf
And I no longer think that that’s the case. And I’ve just completed a book which is called ‘The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism’ for this reason.

Lilah Raptopoulos
What happened to change his mind there was 2016. Britain chose Brexit and Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. It made him think . . . 

Martin Wolf
Something very strange is happening to our politics. Does that force me to reconsider my assumption that the economic track and the political track are in some sense independent, that our basic core democratic values are robust? I came to the conclusion that you couldn’t assume that was a mistake, which I’d made from my life really that the assumption that democratic political systems in core democracies like Britain, in America, but also elsewhere, that these were robust under all circumstances — obviously they weren’t. And therefore, I had to bring politics and economics back much closer together in the way I think about things than I did before.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Martin, one of the reasons I was excited to have you on to talk about this is because I think a lot of a lot of people feel that we need to have read everything, learned everything, to be confident about having an opinion. Uhm it’s important, of course, to be informed, but to know everything is impossible. Uhm so I’d love to hear you walk us through how you go about forming an opinion that you feel is meaningful, uhm especially because you have to sort of put that opinion into the world very publicly.

Martin Wolf
Well, obviously, it takes a certain amount of arrogance. And one wouldn’t do this job if one weren’t, because it would be impossible for you to do it. You couldn’t write anything if you’re not prepared to take a risk of being wrong. In pretty obvious ways, ah you’re, you’re doing nothing. The way I think about how my ideas have developed. There are several elements in that. So I first made a distinction between my values and my opinions. What I mean by values is what fundamentally matters to me. I’m sort of pretty passionately committed to a broadly defined liberal in the European sense liberal pro-democratic viewpoint. Starting with the fundamental assumptions of the importance of consent in society, of personal liberty, and the protection of personal liberty, of the fundamental equality of status and worth of all human beings, as well as a profound commitment to the core enlightenment values. If you have these core values, there are quite a number of different political positions you can take and different ways you can analyse particular situations. And values then depend on how you think the world actually works.

Lilah Raptopoulos
As someone who remains curious and open to new things in the world, in forming your worldview, you know, do you have any advice or hopes about how others should receive or could receive information and remain open to?

Martin Wolf
I’m not perfectly open to put it mildly. There are some views I reject pretty clearly, yet I’m not very open to the world view of Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping. I understand, I think both, but I reject them pretty profoundly. I think one of the most interesting issues recently is how far demands for equality of respect interact with demands for freedom of speech. One of the big issues amongst the younger generation and I haven’t decided what I think about that, which is why I’ve not written about it. So there are some really interesting conundrums. How do other people do it? I think a lot of it is to have the self-confidence to have a view. And express the view. And at the same time, to have the self-confidence to say, yeah, that’s what I thought two weeks ago or 20 years ago but it doesn’t really make sense to me anymore. So you have these two aspects of self-confidence, self-confidence in expressing your views and self-confidence in changing them. If you don’t have it, I think you should fake it. I think a human being should feel entitled to have and express views. I think they should feel an obligation to make them as well-supported as they can be and not ignore evidence and arguments on the other side.

Lilah Raptopoulos
I was going to ask, you know, some people would argue that changing your mind is not a sign of open-mindedness, but a sign of intellectual weakness. What do you say to that?

Martin Wolf
Well, I suppose if you have formed your views by the age of 20 and you have no reason ever to change them. In the light of experience, there are two possibilities: one is that you are a bona fide genius, who has worked out everything important about the world in childhood and early adulthood. In which case, I admire you immeasurably, but I’m not you. And the other possibility is you’re paying no attention. In which case, in my view, you’re not really alive. Certainly not intellectually or emotionally alive. And it’s equally obvious that no human being knows everything. Only a divinity knows everything that I think we can all agree upon, and none of us is divine. I’ve always thought that the big problem of being a divine God would be unimaginable boredom. I mean, you know everything. What would you do with yourself for insanity? But anyway, that’s not my problem. They never will be. So I’m perfectly comfortable with the idea that when you reach wisdom, you realise you didn’t know that much, as Socrates constantly said, and you all knowledge is provisional. But there are certain core values on both sides, if you properly understand them, that have value.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Yeah. Thank you so much, Martin. This was another great pleasure.

Martin Wolf
Well, that’s a conversation I’ve never had. Those are questions that nobody has ever asked me, and I would never have considered, uhm, being foolish enough to answer them if it hadn’t been that you were so charming.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Oh, thank you.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Lilah Raptopoulos
Courtney. Hi, thank you for being on the show.

Courtney Weaver
Thanks for having me.

Lilah Raptopoulos
So tell me about gentle parenting. What is the premise? How does it work?

Courtney Weaver
I know, yeah, this is my older daughter. I think her father is going to come get her in one second.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Hi.

Courtney Weaver
You want to say hi to Lilah? (Kid says No) You’re going to see her parenting in real time. So the question was what is gentle parenting?

Lilah Raptopoulos
That’s my colleague, Courtney Weaver and her daughter, Maya. Courtney is the FT’s US political correspondent in Washington. And a few months before the pandemic, she became a mom. She found herself having to learn about parenting remotely during lockdown. As was the case for many of us, help found her when she was scrolling one day on Instagram. And it was more than just a couple of tips on getting your kid to sleep. It was a whole movement.

Courtney Weaver
Gentle parenting is kind of this umbrella term, and it’s come to encompass a lot of kind of different styles of parenting. Some people call it respectful parenting. Some people call it gentle parenting. There’s no bribery. There’s no timeouts. The basic concept is, you know, little children have big feelings and you’re supposed to let them have these big feelings as opposed to teaching them how to bottle up these feelings inside of them.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Courtney just spent a week with my sisters and their little kids, and the idea that a parent could never get mad at their kid and it would work like seems really hard.

Courtney Weaver
It is really hard when you talk to people who are real acolytes of this movement, a lot of them will say, you know, I’m the adult. You know, it’s my job to kind of be strong and be this kind of oasis of calm so that it kind of helps my kids calm down too and I should just say this upfront, you know, I definitely even try a lot of their techniques and a lot of them I actually find are helpful. But I think it’s what becomes problematic is this idea that, like you just mentioned, that you can kind of be this, this figure of calm this whole time and that, you know, by putting so much emphasis on the child’s feelings that it’s harder for the adult to experience their own feelings, too.

Lilah Raptopoulos
So Courtney wrote about it for the Weekend magazine, and it was hugely popular. I put the link in the show notes. She highlights the work of one of the movement’s leaders, Dr Becky Kennedy. Dr Becky, as she’s known, is a clinical psychologist, and she was initially interested in adults, really. She was wondering whether how they were parented has affected how they parent.

Courtney Weaver
She kind of thought that all these older adults were having these symptoms in adulthood, that she kind of wondered, I wonder if we had done different things with these people when they were children and if they would have a kind of the same psychological problems that they had. Now, so, you know, for kind of high achieving millennials, that maybe as children we were told to kind of bottle up our feelings, you know, and, you know, there’s a lot of emphasis on being polite and not kind of like expressing our feelings.

Lilah Raptopoulos
So Dr Becky started posting parenting advice on Instagram during the pandemic and her account exploded. She now has 1.2 million followers and a company called Good Inside, where you can get digital lessons for $20 a month. Here’s a clip from her Instagram.

Instagram clip

Dr Becky

So start to notice when a tantrum is building, when frustration starts and follow these steps. Name a feeling, empathise and validate a feeling and permit the feeling. This is what that would sound like. Oh, if you can’t figure out yet how that puzzle piece fits into here. Oh, that’s so frustrating. Naming it. And I’m actually using empathy.

Lilah Raptopoulos
You know, it’s funny. It’s like, you know, now they’re running these very successful businesses. And I feel like cynically you can kind of think, okay, so they’re profiting off of using Instagram speak to make you feel like you’re doing something wrong, which just adds more pressure to the parent. And you quoted this person who called these companies ‘parenting Spanx’, like the underwear that makes you look thinner. And they said that the recipe of it is manufactured insecurity and then offer a quick fix for it and then profit. I’m curious what you think about that?

Courtney Weaver
Yeah, I thought that was interesting. I mean, I actually got a response from Dr. Becky after the article came out and she thought a lot of the criticism against her was unfair to a saying. Basically, businesses are allowed to hire McKinsey consultants. Athletes are allowed to hire, you know, trainers or sports consultants. Why do, why do parents deserve parenting coaches?

Lilah Raptopoulos
That’s fair.

Courtney Weaver
And why do mothers not deserve this? And I don’t think and I don’t think anyone is saying that people don’t deserve coaches. With parenting it just feels like there’s so many different ways to do it. You know, there’s not one kind of blanket philosophy that’s going to work for everybody. And, you know, a lot of kids will be raised in a gentle parenting and turn out great and some will turn out not great. Likewise with any other philosophy.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Courtney thinks that the problem is less about Dr Becky and more about social media. I mean, think about it. You know, when my mother had a problem with me, she’d actively pull out Dr Spock’s baby and childcare book. She’d look it up and then she’d put it away. But if you’re a parent today, whenever you’re scrolling passively, that content just keeps coming and coming to you.

Courtney Weaver
With a lot of these Instagram parenting experts, they’re creating new content every day. So every day when you go on Instagram, there’s a new example of something that you shouldn’t be doing that maybe you’ve been doing.

Lilah Raptopoulos
This combination of parents being on social media and parents working more. Courtney thinks that it’s led to a lot of guilt-led parenting. The other thing that struck me about it, even though in some ways it’s like a progressive way to think, is that it’s super time-consuming. Is gentle parenting kind of a privilege?

Courtney Weaver
Totally. I think a lot of that movement presupposes that you have this time to be really intensive and one-on-one on your child at all moments. I think there’s something about this particular generation. I think you have more parents who are working two jobs, who have two careers and a lot of previous generations. And I think for a lot of parents, I think this creates a lot of guilt, to be honest. And I think, you know, parents feel maybe that they don’t have enough time for their children or they don’t, aren’t spending as much time with their children as they think their parents had. Whether or not that’s actually true. And it’s interesting when you actually look at these studies basically indicating that a lot of working mothers actually spend more time being with their children than stay-at-home housewives in the 1950s. You know?

Lilah Raptopoulos
Well.

Courtney Weaver
Uhm, and I do kind of wonder if because, because people are working these jobs, they actually feel more guilt about not being home with their children all the time or feeling like their children are missing out somehow and wanting to compensate.

Lilah Raptopoulos
It seems a little like this movement is very reliant on mothers and on women still. And I’m curious about, if that’s true, does that is that just because mothers are still often primary caretakers, or do you think that’s inherent in the movement?

Courtney Weaver
Interestingly, for the article, I did speak to a couple, two different women actually, and both of them were stay-at-home mothers. And they, they were saying how both of them kind of like, you know, when the children were napping or at night time, they would be kind of scrolling through Instagram. They basically were treating this as their jobs, trying to find new experts to follow and, you know, advice they should put into practice, kind of trying to optimise their parenting. But this kind of this culture of self-improvement, I think, you know, across the board and not just in parenting, obviously targets women.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Yeah. You’re so incentivised to do that now.

Courtney Weaver
Exactly. Exactly. You know, it’s like it feels like in some respects, parenting has just become another realm of this, which.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Sure.

Courtney Weaver
If that, that sparks joy, anyway, I think that’s great. But for a lot of people, I think it doesn’t. And if you don’t have the means to do this or the resources, that definitely does not make you a bad parent.

Lilah Raptopoulos
All these said, parenting is a challenge and people are looking for help. Courtney says she has personally adopted some of the gentle parenting strategies and they have helped. And for some parents, they’ve helped even more.

Courtney Weaver
I actually found that the people it was most helpful for were actually parents whose kids had serious, serious issues, not kind of run-of-the-mill toddler issues. One parent who has a trans daughter who’s four and basically by the time the child was age two, the child was already saying, I don’t, I’m not I don’t feel like a boy. I’m a girl. I’m a girl. And now, they, now know she is a she. And, you know, the parents were saying how the child has had these huge, huge tantrums, you know.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Mhm.

Courtney Weaver
Hours long the child would kind of injure, injure herself and uhm instead of kind of punishing the child for these kind of violent outbursts, they kind of let the child feel their feelings. And I think if you really are in that situation, having an online community like this is so helpful.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Yeah. Even if every generation identifies what it thinks is the right way to parent. There just isn’t one right way. One child development expert told Courtney that actually what kids need is pretty basic.

Courtney Weaver
They want to feel loved. They want to feel safe, and you know they want to have a strong attachment to at least one caregiver, whether that’s the mother, the father, you know a grandmother. And they just want to know, and they kind of want to know what to expect basically. They want to know that it’s going to be on the table and that sort of thing. And you don’t really need to read a book to, to know that, right?

Lilah Raptopoulos
Yeah. So, Courtney, my last question is just where you landed on this? Uhm did you come away from this reporting feeling reassured about your own parenting? (laughs)

Courtney Weaver
I think in some ways it did actually make me feel better about my own parenting just because I think it’s so easy when you’re kind of in this, this world to just kind of overthink it. And the article kind of forced me in a way to step back and, and realise, you know, I think most of us are good enough parents and I hopefully fall in that camp uhm and that relaxing a bit more and just kind of letting things kind of fall as they may actually makes everything better.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Courtney, thank you so much for being on the show.

Courtney Weaver
Thank you for having me.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Lilah Raptopoulos
That’s the show this week. Thank you for listening to FT Weekend, the podcast from the Financial Times. We actually want to involve you in something. So in a few weeks we are speaking with my colleague Esther Bintliff about feedback. There’s this whole field of study on how hard it is to accept feedback, how to give difficult feedback, how to handle criticism and rejection. And we want your questions. So if you have a personal quandary on giving and receiving feedback, Esther will answer it on the show. So send it along. We can use your name or keep you anonymous. Just email us at ftweekendpodcast@ft.com. That email address is in the show notes. Next week we have this incredible story — that should be made a movie — of why professional tennis is a hotbed of cheating and match-fixing. And then after columnist Stephen Bush comes on to talk about the opposite of virtue signalling in politics, it’s something called vice signalling. A special shout out this week to my colleague Madison Derbyshire, who’s the one who initially said, “You know what, I would love to hear Martin talk about changing his mind.” Thanks, Madison. You can always keep in touch with us on social media. The show is on Twitter @ftweekendprod and I am on Instagram and Twitter @lilahrap. I’m always asking questions and posting stuff that feeds into the show on my Instagram. Links to everything mentioned today are in the show notes alongside a link to the best offers available on a subscription to the FT that includes 50% off a digital subscription, that’s really good, and an excellent deal in FT Weekend in print. I’m biased, but I get every weekend in print every Saturday and it is a true delight. Those offers are at ft.com/weekendpodcast. Make sure to use that link.

I’m Lilah Raptopoulos and here’s my incredible team: Katya Kumkova is our senior producer, Lulu Smyth is our assistant producer. Our sound engineers are Breen Turner and Sam Giovinco with original music by Metaphor music. Niamh Rowe is our intern. Zoe Sullivan is our contributing producer, Topher Forhecz is our executive producer. And thanks go as always to Cheryl Brumley and Renée Kaplan. Have a wonderful weekend and we’ll find each other again next week.

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