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Sunk Costs (not remediated by groupthink)

Managing sunk costs is not easy. The routine of cost recovery has been internalized as deep habit for many. It is also known as commitment bias and may be observed in numerous contexts (see also escalation of commitment).

Dedication to past decisions may be seen as loyalty and perseverance. Alternatively, it may be interpreted as repeatedly banging one’s head against the wall while expecting different and beneficial results. The financial crisis c. 2008 generally and responses of expert market service providers specifically, including independent auditors and credit rating agencies, have been interpreted as the manifest conduct of principals / aiders and abetters in commonly alleged but rarely proven financial crimes or evidence of widespread but foolishly uncritical acceptance of unsound but not criminal business practices such as the underwriting of bad loans and sponsorship of bad securities, among other interpretations. Auditors, for example, may be reluctant to appear to overrule their own past decisions in providing unqualified audit opinions that included acceptance of auditee management’s estimates and assumptions that proved too rosy for economic reality. Changing one’s mind may be seen as weak and risky. Commitment bias may be accompanied by confirmation bias, though understanding that the future need not resemble the past is hardly a new idea.

Critical thinking does not occur outside of real socioeconomic contexts influenced by individuals with much at stake. As wonderful as the past has been for some, it is no surprise that many so desperately want the future to resemble the past. Organizations and institutions are particularly vulnerable to such wishful thinking: The legal fiction of perpetual existence (so long as annual filing fees are paid) contributes to the belief that the employer, auditor, auditee, etc. are so much bigger and longer lasting than any one individual stakeholder such that the corporate body will persist notwithstanding any adversity to the surrounding medium and any wrongheaded biases presently pushing it from within. Groupthink, though comforting in the short-term, only kicks the can down the road.