Why You Are Not Free, Ch. 6: The Group Trap

by Griffyn

All right, it’s time to move on to the Sixth chapter of the book, “How I found freedom in an unfree world” by Harry Browne

Harry is going to talk about how easy it is to fall into the trap of thing you can do more while working with others then by doing thing more on your own. This one is a tough one for me, as I have a business partner and have found it very useful.

As far as joining a group to achieve freedom, with my possibly limited experience, I’ve found what he talks about here to be spot on.  This is true regardless of what the group plans on achieving ONE DAY, thought it hasn’t happened yet or is “on the brink” of happening.

I will simply be adding the parts of the book that I highlighted.  By no means is this the entire book or even the best way to sum up each chapter, it’s just what I highlighted so that I could review the book quickly later.

Chapter 6: The Group Trap.

To be free, you must know what you’re doing and why. Otherwise, slight setbacks can cause you to discard your plans and give up.

The Group Trap

The Group Trap is the belief that you can accomplish more by sharing responsibilities, efforts, and rewards with others than you can by acting on your own.

You achieve more for yourself when your rewards are dependent upon your own efforts rather than upon the efforts of other people.

Groups are not living entities. They don’t think or act; only individuals do. And yet, any group effort is based upon the assumption of a group purpose that overrides the individual differences of its members. It’s expected that the group will act as a single unit with a unified purpose.

Only individuals think…

Perhaps each person entering a group unconsciously assumes that it will act in unison for his objectives and by his methods. But every other participant probably has a similar assumption regarding his ideas.

What they get instead will inevitably be a compromise.


When the efforts and rewards are shared, it becomes apparent that the individual’s own efforts will have a less significant effect upon his eventual reward than if he were acting alone.

Of course, he expects to get half the value added by the other person, too; but he doesn’t control the other person’s effort. He controls only his own effort. So what he controls will produce only a half reward.

Joint Efforts

Joint efforts are possible. In fact, they’re necessary to increase standards of living. You can’t produce your own automobile from scratch—nor can you really produce much of anything without relying upon the efforts of others.

It’s necessary to exchange with others to acquire whatever you need along the way, but you don’t have to enter into sharing agreements of the kind described earlier. It’s more efficient to separate responsibilities and rewards, not share them.  The Group Trap is the assumption that greater strength can be achieved by sharing. Just the opposite happens: Individual objectives are watered down, time and effort are wasted in arranging compromises, and individual incentive is reduced.

.As Thoreau said, “The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.”

The Group Trap

The Group Trap comes packaged in many wrappings. In its broadest form, it is any economic system that separates achievements from rewards. If an individual is required to share what he produces but can also have a share of what others produce, his obvious incentive will be to produce as little as possible and live off the rewards produced by others.

Types of Alternatives

As you view any situation in which you have a goal, there are basically two types of alternatives available to you. I call them direct and indirect.

A direct alternative is one that requires only direct action by yourself to get a desired result.

An indirect alternative requires that you act to make someone else do what is necessary to achieve your objective.

Once you’ve seen the positions and attitudes of the other people involved, a direct alternative requires only that you make a decision; an indirect alternative requires that you change the attitude of one or more other persons so that they will do what it is you want.

Selling Others

One of the greatest encouragements to wasted effort is the concept of positive thinking. To say “You can do it if you’ll just believe you can” is to try to wish away reality. In those situations that involve direct alternatives, your own mental attitude can make quite a difference. But in situations involving indirect alternatives, false confidence can induce you to waste your time futilely trying to change others.

A realistic man recognizes the identity of each person he deals with. He knows that he can’t change the identity of the other person just by willing it. He takes the identities of others seriously and then decides what direct alternatives exist for him in view of those identities.

That doesn’t mean that no one ever changes his ideas or plans. But the changes occur only when they make sense to the individual—when they are harmonious with his basic nature.
There are occasions when you must sell something to some-one else—possibly even sell for a living. But an efficient salesman doesn’t approach the world with the idea that his persuasive powers could change anyone.

Rather, he accepts people as they are and relies upon two talents: (1) his ability to locate people whose self-interests would be satisfied by his product or service; and (2) his ability to demonstrate to those people the connection between his product and their self-interest.

The most successful salesmen, consciously or intuitively, recognize and accept the identities of the people they deal with. They take seriously their prospects’ attitudes and objections. And they don’t waste their time with inappropriate prospects. Because they realize that they can’t sell everyone, they’re more selective in picking the people they’ll try to sell.

A Key to Freedom

The recognition of the two types of alternatives is one of the most important keys to freedom. Most people automatically think in terms of indirect alternatives—who must be changed, how people must be educated, what others should be doing. Consequently, they spend most of their lives in futile efforts to achieve what can’t be achieved—the remaking of others.

In any situation, a free man immediately looks first at the identities of the other people involved and appraises the situation by the simple standard: Isthis what I want for myself? If it isn’t, he looks elsewhere. If it is, he relaxes and enjoys the situation to the maximum—without the problems that most people take for granted.

He automatically thinks in terms of direct alternatives. He asks himself, “With things as they are, what can I do by myself to make things better for myself?”

A free man doesn’t need groups, because he’s in a position to take advantage of the numerous direct alternatives that require only his decision, not the changing of others.

Easier Way

Group endeavors are inefficient because they neutralize incentives by creating shared responsibilities, efforts, and rewards. You think and decide and act only for yourself. It isn’t realistic to believe you can double your thoughts and actions by adding an equal partner, or that you can multiply them a hundred times over by joining a large group.

You waste precious time, effort, and money when you attempt to achieve freedom through the efforts of a group. You can achieve far more for yourself by using direct alternatives to free yourself of government interference, social pressures, and other conditions that restrict you.


Back: Why You Are Not Free, Ch. 5: The Unselfishness Trap
Next: Why You Are Not Free, Ch. 7: The Government  Trap

Categories: Harry Browne, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Griffyn Says:

    What type of group trap are you currently in? I have a business partnership, which I still choose. Thankfully, that is the only group trap I currently find myself in. Other then forcefully put in the United States of America trap, though I don’t waste to much time trying to change “them” as a whole…


    Jeremiah Reply:

    One of my small businesses has been built upon the idea of “working together for the end-goal”.

    While I find this to be an acceptable ideal to a creature who is firmly rooted in the basic muds of the ideals concerning reciprocity, I now find that keeping the structure intact is necessarily contingent upon others in several ways.

    If the others leave, or have different operating visions, solutions have been prepared. However I still find myself wondering if this can be refined to be a function of my will alone.

    There is no way to do everything ourselves, but how can we better be the linchpin for the ebb and flow of our own structures?

    Does not keep me up at night,, but is certainly worth musing about in my life.


    Griffyn Reply:

    I’m afraid that I’ve never seen someone bow to my will for long. No consistency. I think the better thing would be to find people that already have similar end-goals and just understand that they could NOT live up to their end at any time and simply take precautions and have back up plans for if/when they do. That is keeping things within what we all really have control over consistently, ourselves.