Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Flunking Out

I have often puzzled over the gulf that exists between liberals and conservatives on how they look at the issues of the day. This is never more evident than when I visit my liberal friends and in-laws who frequently treat me with the bemused tolerance one would expect for a dimwitted and slightly addled child. To maintain peace and harmony I chew on my tongue and try not to let any political comments pass my lips.

One of my theories on how liberals and conservatives can arrive at such divergent conclusions from the same set of facts supposes that we are not, in fact, using the same facts. This theory surmises that liberals read the NYT, the Daily Kos and The Huffington Post and listen to NPR, MSNBC and CBS News. Conservatives, on the other hand, read the WSJ, Bloomberg, and listen to Fox News. In other words, we libs and cons may NOT be operating from the same set of facts or, at least, the emphasis or interpretation of those facts.

An older theory of mine postulated that people adopted a stance early in life… either left or right and simply stuck with it. This firmly held conviction thereafter colored whatever information they received. This tied in with another theory of mine that I call “tribalism”. I postulated that people in their early years decide to which “tribe” they belong: Hippy, punk rocker, preppie, biker, geek, etc. From there onward they adopt the dress, speech, mannerisms, life style and attitudes of that tribe. Therefore, if you decide that you are an educated, hip, urbane person concerned with the environment and socially conscious, you join the liberal tribe and accept anything “liberal” and reject as downright stupid, if not corrupt, anything labeled as “conservative”. (Note to my liberal friends: Don’t get hostile here. I am just trying to figure this shit out.)

I was never all that convinced that either of those two theories sufficiently answered my questions.

Now comes a new theory to further confuse me. Daniel Klein recently published a piece in the WSJ entitled “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader”. Mr. Klein is a professor of economics at George Mason and together with Zeljka Burturovic, a Zogby researcher, conducted a December 2008 survey of 4,835 American adults. The survey asked them eight questions about basic economics. They also asked them about their political leanings: progressive/very liberal; liberal; moderate; conservative; very conservative and libertarian. The researchers here were looking for incorrect answers, and only, as Professor Klein said, “A response was counted as incorrect only if it was flatly unenlightened.” The possible responses to the questions were: 1. strongly agree 2. somewhat agree 3. somewhat disagree 4. strongly disagree and 5. not sure. “Not sures” were not counted as incorrect. I will list the questions below and the correct answers at the end of this piece so you can, like, figure out if you are, like, a liberal or like, a conservative. No, like, cheating by going to, like, the end of the article.

Pick one of the above highlighted answers to the following questions:

1. Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable.

2. Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services.

3. Overall, the standard of living is higher today than it was 30 years ago.

4. Rent control leads to housing shortages.

5. A company with the largest market share is a monopoly.

6. Third World workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited.

7. Free trade leads to unemployment.

8. Minimum wage laws raise unemployment.

So, how did the self-identified ideological groups fare in this simple economics test? Remember, we are scoring incorrect answers here.

Very conservative: 1.30 wrong

Conservative: 1.67 wrong

Libertarian: 1.38 wrong

Moderate: 3.67 wrong

Liberal: 4.69 wrong

Progressive/very liberal: 5.26 wrong

When asked about party affiliation, those responding as Democrats averaged 4.59 incorrect answers. Those responding as Republicans got 1.61 incorrect.

You can read Klein’s original article (link) to get the specific scores on the individual questions and his explanations of the correct answers.

A lot of brain cells can be destroyed trying to figure out why the most liberal among us did so poorly on a simple economics test compared to the most conservative citizens. I won’t attempt that here. Suffice it to say that the “progressive/very liberal” wing of the Democrat Party has been in charge of things for some time now and this simple test helps explain the unenlightened economic policies now coming out of Washington.

Wrong answers to questions: 1. Somewhat disagree, strongly disagree. 2. Disagree. 3. Disagree. 4. Disagree. 5. Agree. 6. Agree. 7. Agree. 8. Disagree.


Heide said...

Well shoot, I had an embarrassing amount of "Not Sure" responses on this quiz. This is the direct result of my self-imposed hermitage and avoiding as much of the political/outside world as possible. I just don't know my arse from a hole in the ground. My idea of good economics is confined to finding something really cheap at a garage sale that I can sell on ebay at a profit to compensate for my lack of a summer job. I refuse to work a job that would requires putting my children be in daycare... but that's a whole separate topic. Anyway, Saturday was a black (as opposed to red) day. Fred Sanford would have been proud. The more Liberal folks should be happy because it's kind of like recycling and I'm making amends for not driving a Prius.

Sorry, off on a tangent. Thinking too hard about societal issues beyond my control make me crazy. I mean, aren't rental prices regulated by supply and demand? What jobs did the Chinese do before Walmart? Yup, too complicated to ponder.

On a lighter note, the sturgeon are biting down here on the Columbia. The size restrictions are quite limited though so most of them end up being tossed back.

Heide said...

sorry about the typos in that comment. I'm tired and my fingers just won't behave.

Anonymous said...

I missed one "the standard of living is better today than it was 30 years ago?" I disagreed. I feel the standard of living has continued to decrease. We have more gadgets and electronic things but the dollar is worth much less. I could go on but in general I feel that our country's best years are behind us. Ken

Good article Cuz, always enjoy your posts.

Patson said...

I already commented as Anonymous but then decided to register as Patson.