I Kan Haf Progressive Economics?

Daniel Klein at WSJ:

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.


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.

The other questions were: 1) Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services (unenlightened answer: disagree). 2) Overall, the standard of living is higher today than it was 30 years ago (unenlightened answer: disagree). 3) Rent control leads to housing shortages (unenlightened answer: disagree). 4) A company with the largest market share is a monopoly (unenlightened answer: agree). 5) Third World workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited (unenlightened answer: agree). 6) Free trade leads to unemployment (unenlightened answer: agree). 7) Minimum wage laws raise unemployment (unenlightened answer: disagree).

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.

Americans in the first three categories do reasonably well. But the left has trouble squaring economic thinking with their political psychology, morals and aesthetics.

Doug Bandow at The American Spectator:

Even the good guys get too many wrong.  Still, there’s not much doubt why the left is so bad on economic issues.  They don’t understand how the economy works!

Veronique de Rugy at The Corner:

The WSJ piece is based on research that Klein did a few months ago with his co-author, Columbia University psychologist Zeljka Buturovic. Among other things, they show that thinking like an economist is not correlated to going to college. They also find that it is the highest among those self-identifying as “conservative” and “libertarian,” and descends through “moderate,” “liberal,” and “progressive.” Other variables include party affiliation, religious participation, union membership, NASCAR fandom, and Walmart patronage. Their results were originally published here.

I reported on some of Klein’s research here and here.

Arnold Kling:

Liberals are confident that they are smarter and better educated than conservatives. That may be the case in some sense. But they are overconfident in their beliefs.

They may think of themselves as an elite, but they are just a ruling class.

Vodka Pundit:

So it seems that liberals aren’t lying to you, when they say that taxes create prosperity or that we can spend our way out of a debt crisis. But they might just be lying to themselves.

You decide which is worse.

Ed Morrissey:

I like beating up on progressive economics as much as any conservative blogger, but this looks a lot like a test designed to produce a result, not an objective analysis.  Besides, we’re getting a real-world demonstration of progressive economics over the last sixteen months.  We don’t need a Zogby survey to tell us that it fails; all we need to see are the job-creation numbers coming this year, and the precipitous drop in mortgage applications.


As it happens, I agree with the scoring on these, but some of them are at least arguable.  The rent-control question, for example, prompts a chicken-and-egg argument.  Rent control doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but usually in a market where housing shortages already exist for other reasons (high population, overly strict zoning requirements, and so on.)  A “disagree” on that question might well hinge on a disagreement over the source of the shortage, which is at least a reasonable question to ask.  Likewise, the answer to the question of exploitation of Third World workers being exploited is probably not a yes/no answer, but a matter of degree, and of whether the “exploitation” tends to benefit both parties or just one to the exclusion of the other, and the answer is not going to be the same in every single instance of Third World outsourcing.

But I suspect that Klein and the people who will quote this survey don’t care for nuance and substance as much as they will want some ammunition in the who’s-dumber war among pundits.  This is every bit as substantial as the previous salvos, which is not saying much at all, but therefore it has some terrific tu quoque value.  Sling away!

UPDATE: Nate Silver

E.D. Kain at The League


1 Comment

Filed under Economics, Politics

One response to “I Kan Haf Progressive Economics?

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built This Weekend « Around The Sphere

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