Left=Economic Illiteracy?

Great minds think alike.  I had prepared a post on this subject and I see that Darwin already has posted on the same topic.  Normally I would simply trash my post, but this time I think our readers might find it amusing to see our different takes on this topic.

Everyone loves a pop quiz right, especially on economics!   Here are eight questions.   Possible answers are :   1) strongly agree; 2) somewhat agree; 3) somewhat disagree; 4) strongly disagree; 5) are not sure.

Here are the questions:

 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.

The questions were part of a poll undertaken by Zogby and designed by George Mason University Economics Professor Daniel B. Klein.  He wrote about the results on June 8 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.

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.
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.

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.

Go here to read the rest.  Go here to read an article that Professor Klein has written about the poll.

None of this is really very surprising.  The Left frequently has rather extreme hostility to markets and an often child-like faith in the ability of the State to create prosperity.  That economic history is one long refutation of this belief in the State as the creator of wealth deters not a whit the faith of most Leftists in that proposition.




8 Responses to Left=Economic Illiteracy?

  1. Pinky says:

    The first link didn’t work. It yielded the message “Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t here”, which sounds like something out of Camus.

    I read the report on the second link. Amazing.

  2. T. Shaw says:

    Camus: “ . . . all attempts to create heaven on earth lead to hell on earth.”

  3. Jim says:

    For the record Capitalism and Socialism are two sides of the same coin. Both require huge governments to sustain themselves. Uncle Milty was a flawed in economic theory as Marx.

    To answer his question of “what does reward virtue?” I submit the following:

    Economics, Cooperation, and Employee Ownership: The Emilia Romagna model – in more detail

    Click to access article-logue.pdf

  4. n4nadmin says:

    It is a bit of an unsurprising result, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to dissent from the concept that foreign workers of American companies overseas aren’t being exploited. Of course they are – its not just the fact of lower wages, which is the least of the issues (cost of living is generally very much less in Third World nations than the USA), but the fact that there are few safety, health and environmental protections…people at my employer who have gone to visit our Indian sites come back with reports of representatives crammed in to space which would make an American revolt…things like that which do indicate that the company is using foreign labor as a means of squeezing an extra half percent out of the balance sheet to make profits look higher when they’re really not.

  5. Donald R. McClarey says:

    The link is fixed Pinky. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. Begone Camus! 🙂

  6. smf says:

    The exploitation question is rather seriously debatable, and thus it is unfortunate that it was included. In fact, most of the key terms in that question have no commonly agreed definition.

    The free trade question is also problematic. Free trade may lead to less total unemployment in the entire system, but it can certainly lead to unemployment in a particular nation-state, and especially in the weaker sectors of economies. Free trade should be job positive when you look at all sectors of all nations, but there is no guarantee for any particular nation or sector.

  7. What happened to the plethora of comments criticizing Klein’s serious methological errors?

  8. Donald R. McClarey says:

    You are probably thinking about Darwin’s post on the same subject Tony. This is my post and none of the comments have been deleted, and I assume the same applies to Darwin’s thread.

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