Zeljka Buturovic and Daniel Klein of Econ Journal Watch will make no friends on the left with the publication of the results of a 2008 Zogby poll on 'economic enlightenment'.
From Klein's article in the Wall Street Journal:
Who is better informed about the policy choices facing the country—liberals, conservatives or libertarians? According to a Zogby International survey that I write about in the May issue of Econ Journal Watch, the answer is unequivocal: The left flunks Econ 101.The questions were:
Zogby researcher Zeljka Buturovic and I considered the 4,835 respondents' (all American adults) answers to eight survey questions about basic economics. We also asked the respondents about their political leanings: progressive/very liberal; liberal; moderate; conservative; very conservative; and libertarian.
Rather than focusing on whether respondents answered a question correctly, we instead looked at whether they answered incorrectly. A response was counted as incorrect only if it was flatly unenlightened.
Consider one of the economic propositions in the December 2008 poll: "Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable." People were asked if they: 1) strongly agree; 2) somewhat agree; 3) somewhat disagree; 4) strongly disagree; 5) are not sure.
Basic economics acknowledges that whatever redeeming features a restriction may have, it increases the cost of production and exchange, making goods and services less affordable. There may be exceptions to the general case, but they would be atypical.
Therefore, we counted as incorrect responses of "somewhat disagree" and "strongly disagree." This treatment gives leeway for those who think the question is ambiguous or half right and half wrong. They would likely answer "not sure," which we do not count as incorrect.
In this case, percentage of conservatives answering incorrectly was 22.3%, very conservatives 17.6% and libertarians 15.7%. But the percentage of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly was 67.6% and liberals 60.1%. The pattern was not an anomaly.
1) Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services
2) Overall, the standard of living is higher today than it was 30 years ago
3) Rent control leads to housing shortages
4) A company with the largest market share is a monopoly
5) Third World workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited
6) Free trade leads to unemployment
7) Minimum wage laws raise unemployment
8) Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable
How did the six ideological groups do overall? Here they are, best to worst, with an average number of incorrect responses from 0 to 8: Very conservative, 1.30; Libertarian, 1.38; Conservative, 1.67; Moderate, 3.67; Liberal, 4.69; Progressive/very liberal, 5.26.We all have good friends on the left, people that we love, like and respect for their decency and humanity. However, we all know that when it comes to matters of economics they're dim bulbs. Their views are not only not part of the solution to the world's problems they are the root cause of most of the issues we face today. Not that the left would ever admit to that basic truth. As Dennis Prager likes to say, being on the left means never having to say you're sorry.
Americans in the first three categories do reasonably well. But the left has trouble squaring economic thinking with their political psychology, morals and aesthetics.
To be sure, none of the eight questions specifically challenge the political sensibilities of conservatives and libertarians. Still, not all of the eight questions are tied directly to left-wing concerns about inequality and redistribution. In particular, the questions about mandatory licensing, the standard of living, the definition of monopoly, and free trade do not specifically challenge leftist sensibilities.
Yet on every question the left did much worse. On the monopoly question, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (31%) was more than twice that of conservatives (13%) and more than four times that of libertarians (7%). On the question about living standards, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (61%) was more than four times that of conservatives (13%) and almost three times that of libertarians (21%).
The survey also asked about party affiliation. Those responding Democratic averaged 4.59 incorrect answers. Republicans averaged 1.61 incorrect, and Libertarians 1.26 incorrect.
Adam Smith described political economy as "a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator." Governmental power joined with wrongheadedness is something terrible, but all too common. Realizing that many of our leaders and their constituents are economically unenlightened sheds light on the troubles that surround us.
The full study is available here and makes great reading.
There are some interesting tables in the study. Firstly, correlation between education level and response (and they give some reasons for the results):
Here's the most amusing table in the whole study:
I must admit that I am truly astonished by the disparity in understanding of economics between the left and right. Given I got all 8 correct - they're hardly difficult - I also admit to being a bit surprised that the results weren't a lot better across all groups.
Naturally, the left will deal with this study in its usual manner: criticise the qualifications of those undertaking the research; impugn their motives for doing so; and accuse them of being in the pay of Big Left Wing Enemy du Jour. So much easier than refuting the results.
Seriously, though, wouldn't it be great if 16 year olds were taught the basics of economics so that they could answer all of these questions correctly? Perhaps the next generation of politicians would be more careful with the nation's economy than the current lot of left wing incompetents.
As an aside, it's ironic that in the West left wing governments are only ever elected when they campaign on conservative, 'responsible' economic grounds when the reality is that they really don't understand economics at all well. Once they're in power, however, the inner Keynesian pops out, they spend whatever surpluses the previous government has left and then make a good, solid attempt to spend the wealth of the next generation, and the one after that, before being turfed out amidst massive financial upheaval, as has just happened in the UK.
I'll have another post on why 2010 will be marked down in history as one of the most important years in modern history. Needless to say, ignorance of economics will be a major theme.