Economic Ignorance Knows No Idealogical Bounds

The other day Ilya Solmin at The Volokh Conspiracy had an interesting article discussing a recent set of studies on political affiliation and economic savvy. In short the authors of the studies, Zeljka Buturovic and Dan Klein, looked at how people who identified with the major US political parties scored on basic economic tests. I can save you the trouble of reading through the article; it doesn't matter if one is a Republican or a Democrat, both groups are biased and economically illiterate. Although, considering the recent track records of those who would undoubtedly do substantially better on such tests, perhaps economic illiteracy isn't the worst thing in the world...


  1. The article points to a larger flaw in political discourse. The "wrong" answers made by both sides were registering underlying objections. For example, Dems incorrectly said rent control did not cause housing shortages, and Repubs incorrectly said a dollar did not mean more to a poor person than a rich person.

    Objectively, those things are true, and principled Dems and Repubs should be able to concede them without
    giving up their stance. "Yea, Repub, rent control makes
    less housing available, but it is worthwhile to ensure
    some degree of low-income housing.". "Yes, Dem, a
    dollar means more to a poor person, but I think each
    person has a right to keep the money they earn, even if
    they don't need it."

    Instead of maligned principled concessions, too many Americans and thei leaders pretend that facts challenging their values don't exist. When we refuse to see the merit of the other side's worldview (even when factually proven) is it any wonder we cannot negotiate effectively?

  2. Josh Sturtevant29/11/11 09:29

    Thank you dear reader for taking my vehicle for snarkiness and 'intellectualing it up' a bit. Though the most interesting angle on this story had to wait until the comments section to be presented, it is no less valid for the delay.

    The oft-discussed and much-maligned intelligent discourse deficit in this country right now is both disturbing and destructive, and our reader is quite right to point out that it hampers negotiations on the simplest of matters.

    When bias is leaned on rather than economic sense, it is clear that logic suffers.

    However, a separate point not addressed by the study might be even more disturbing to our commenter and others...there is a lack of consensus on what 'economic sense' is these days.

    Of course most mainstream economists will agree on the simple supply and demand graphs regarding rent controls and can agree that the relative worth of a dollar bill will be higher for a poorer individual. However, once we get to bigger picture items, the seas are a little more stormy.

    After all, at this very moment top economists can't agree on whether it will take austerity or spending to break out of economic malaise. Both viewpoints are supported by models and various historical touchpoints, but couldn't be more different as far as their purposes.

    So maybe the more interesting (and important) discussion isn't whether idealogical bias impacts the economic sense of most individuals, but rather whether economics can even be described as an art that has 'real' answers in the first place...