Ignorance: A Feature, Not a Bug

The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so.
-Ronald W. Reagan.

And, boy, if that ain’t the truth. There’s a fascinating study on political leanings and economic literacy, conducted by Zogby and reported on in today’s WSJ. First, the setup:

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.

In other words, just simple guesswork gave each respondent a 60% chance of getting a correct answer. You have to really try to suck at these questions. Onward:

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.

And the results:

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.

Not an anomaly? Nope. Look at the totals for all eight questions:

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.

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.