Madiba … Bayesian hero

The dramatic story of how Nelson Mandela reconsidered his long-held Marxist views and updated his political and economic priors is retold in this fascinating report “How Mandela Shifted Views on Freedom of Markets” published on 10 December 2013 in the New York Times. According to the Times:

When Mr. Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he told his followers in the African National Congress that he believed in the nationalization of South Africa’s main businesses. “The nationalization of the mines, banks and monopoly industries is the policy of the A.N.C., and a change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable,” he said at the time. Two years later, however, Mr. Mandela changed his mind, embracing capitalism, and charted a new economic course for his country.

This dramatic reversal, which is also recounted in greater detail in Anthony Sampson’s biography of the great Mandela, also poses a larger question about politics generally. Specifically, why are so few world leaders Bayesians like Mandela, i.e. willing to revise or even abandon their fundamental views of the world when confronted with new evidence? Is a political leader’s willingness to engage in Bayesian updating what separates great men like Mandela from despots (like Fidel in Cuba or Hitler in Nazi Germany) as well as from ordinary politicians (like, say, George W. Bush or Barack Obama)?

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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1 Response to Madiba … Bayesian hero

  1. The Professor's Wife says:

    Not many world leaders are Bayesians because they are afraid. Most people in general are not Bayesians because most people are afraid to change and do not like change. Revising or abandoning priors is hard for people to do. Only a small group of people are that open minded. That is part of what makes them (like Madiba)

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