The "Going to ????" Problem
March 1, 2014 2:27 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever heard of a problem in economics called something like "Going to Cleveland"? I read about it years ago, maybe even here, but I can't find it anywhere now. As I remember it, it involves a group of people who are making plans to drive somewhere, but each of those people would secretly prefer not to go. Since they don't reveal their preferences to each other, though, they each assume that the others would rather go, and so they agree that they will too. The result is a suboptimal outcome for everybody. Am I making this up? Or does this really have a name and a full explanation?
posted by derrinyet to Grab Bag (4 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Abilene paradox
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:32 AM on March 1, 2014 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: Exactly! Thanks.
posted by derrinyet at 2:34 AM on March 1, 2014

I recently ran across the "bus to Abilene" phrase in Susan Cain's "Quiet." She says that one common use is in military culture:
The U.S. Army has a name for a similar phenomenon: “the Bus to Abilene.” “Any army officer can tell you what that means,” Colonel (Ret.) Stephen J. Gerras, a professor of behavioral sciences at the U.S. Army War College, told Yale Alumni Magazine in 2008. “It’s about a family sitting on a porch in Texas on a hot summer day, and somebody says, ‘I’m bored. Why don’t we go to Abilene?’ When they get to Abilene, somebody says, ‘You know, I didn’t really want to go.’ And the next person says, ‘I didn’t want to go—I thought you wanted to go,’ and so on. Whenever you’re in an army group and somebody says, ‘I think we’re all getting on the bus to Abilene here,’ that is a red flag. You can stop a conversation with it. It is a very powerful artifact of our culture.”
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:57 AM on March 1, 2014 [17 favorites]

It's like the old sitcom trope where the mom makes the same horrible casserole every Friday and everybody pretends to like it, so she keeps making it even though she doesn't like it either.
posted by w0mbat at 10:18 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

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