The Wall Street Journal has a very interesting Op-ed today. Daniel B. Klein and Zogby researcher Zeljka Buturovic conducted a survey of almost 5,000 adults to test the understanding of basic economic principles. They broke down the results by ideology (progressive to libertarian) and the results show that lefties don’t know diddly-squat about economics.
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.
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.
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%).
Klein and Buturovic did not really have to spend too much time on this study. Just by looking at Congress’ performance since 2006, pretty much tells the tale. The Democrats’ “Spend Your Way Out of Debt” plan is a complete disaster and is pretty proof positive that the left doesn’t know jack s—t about economics.
If I had to guess why liberals did so poorly, I would say it is because many of them are taught to always see the world through nuance, rather than clear-cut divisions of right and wrong. While there is nothing wrong with this approach for the social and political realms, economics offers far less room for nuance. For example, borrowing tons of money you cannot afford to pay back, never ever, ever leads to a happy ending no matter how you look at it.