At the Volokh Conspiracy, Todd Zywicki looks at a new article by Zeljka Buturovic and Dan Klein in Econ Journal Watch which aims to “gauge economic enlightenment based on responses to eight economic questions.” Among other things, the researchers filter the survey results for political ideology. Zywicki’s highlights:

  • 67% of self-described Progressives believe that restrictions on housing development (i.e., regulations that reduce the supply of housing) do not make housing less affordable.

  • 51% believe that mandatory licensing of professionals (i.e., reducing the supply of professionals) doesn’t increase the cost of professional services.
  • Perhaps most amazing, 79% of self-described Progressives believe that rent control (i.e., price controls) does not lead to housing shortages.
  • Zywicki said that “the questions here are not whether the benefits of these policies might outweigh the costs, but the basic economic effects of these policies. Those identifying as “libertarian” and “very conservative” were the most knowledgeable about basic economics. Those identifying as ‘Progressive’ and ‘Liberal’ were the worst.”

    Volokh blogger Ilya Somin follows with a number of caveats about the survey.

    The study certainly rings true when measured against the economic pronouncements of “progressive” faith-based groups. As I showed in my review of Prophet Jim Wallis’ latest book, the religious left’s understanding of basic economic principles is pretty dismal.


    • Frank Christiano

      While 79% of the Progressives thought rent control did not contribute to housing housing shortage, it would be interesting to know how many conservatives thought so too.

    • Roger McKinney

      Frank, the answer is in the paper. I don’t remember the figure but conservatives and libertarians were much better informed about all of the issues.

      It’s not surprising to me that progressives are ignorant about economics. What surprised me is their pride in their ignorance. It’s a badge of honor with them to be untainted by the propaganda of the science of economics. They consider it neither a science not to have any truth whatsoever, but pure lie from the capitalist class. In their minds, conservatives and libertarians aren’t smarter about economics; they’re just stooges of the capitalist classes.

    • http://yahoo.co.uk Luke Daxon

      In what sense can economics be termed a science? Is it to considered a social science or a branch of the natural sciences?

      I can accept a definition of it as one of the social science. After all, this simply means scholarship that explores aspects of human existence. However, I find it absurd to classify economics as a natural science. Are we honestly to believe that economic behaviour is governed by the same laws that hold the cosmos together?

    • William Alias

      To Luke Daxon asks “Are we honestly to believe that economic behaviour is governed by the same laws that hold the cosmos together?”
      The answer of course is yes! Universal laws are all encompassing by definition of universe-al. Mr Dixon might look into “Quantum Mechanics” as the science of the “cosmos” or how things work.

      A liberal of 60 years ago might have been described as careing; today as careing more for oneself than others.

    • Russ

      For a discipline to be a science, need it fall under the umbrella of the “natural” sciences. I see no reason to think so.

    • http://www.uncensoredrev.com Uncensored Rev.

      The term “enlightenment” caught my attention because I think it overstates the matter. I put the same eight questions to other “conservatives” who provided the right answers but were able to do so only because they remembered the party line, so to speak. (I haven’t been able to survey any libertarians at this point.) Could it be, therefore, that what the authors studied wasn’t economic enlightenment per se, but the extent to which “conservatives” and “libertarians” have merely outperformed “liberals” in popularizing certain economic talking points vs. any real enlightenment. I for one would like to reserve the term “economic enlightenment” for sound economic knowledge and reasoning rather than rote memorization.

    • Patrick Powers

      It’s a kindness that the Liberals weren’t asked if they favored cannabalism, then whether they approve of embryonic stem cell research. Or should America approve polygamy in any form, then asked about multiple no-fault divorces (serial polygamy).

    • Roger McKinney

      Luke: “In what sense can economics be termed a science?”

      Hayek and Mises have written extensively on this topic. The first part of Mises’ “Human Action” is devoted to it. Hayek tackles it in several place, but one of his best is “The Counter-Revolution in Science.”

      The nut is this: socialists managed to defrock economics as a science. Economics was considered a science in the 19th century. So was theology, btw. Then, the term meant little more than a systematic way to search for truth and was almost interchangeable with philosophy. But economics presented a real problem for socialists: it proved them wrong. So socialists set up the natural sciences as the only true sciences and everything else was nothing but specualtion and ideology. They succeeded very well in the public mind.

      Mises and Hayek show why economics is a real science and why it must use different methods from those of the natural sciences because the subject of study is very different. Hayek has a nice definition of science in Counter-Revolution, too. He calls it classification.

      It shouldn’t matter whether economics is considered science or not, except that socialists have succeeded in convincing people that no truth exists outside of the natural sciences, which is nonsense but most people agree. Edward Feser has a good book aimed at atheists that debunks that nonsense – “The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheists.” Atheists like the socialist idea that natural science and only natural science has any claim to truth. He demonstrates that natural science is based on philosophical assumptions that it can’t prove through natural science and that philosophical truth is more certain than truths in natural science. But the obvious point is that the truths of natural science are trivial compared to those of philosophy.

      So you can call economics a philosophy if you want instead of a science, but to be rational you must accept that the truths of philosophy are as certain as those in natural science.

    • Neal Lang

      “In what sense can economics be termed a science? Is it to considered a social science or a branch of the natural sciences?

      “I can accept a definition of it as one of the social science. After all, this simply means scholarship that explores aspects of human existence. However, I find it absurd to classify economics as a natural science. Are we honestly to believe that economic behaviour is governed by the same laws that hold the cosmos together?”

      In what sense can physics be termed a science?

      “Those who argue that economics should not be thought of as a science, however, are reacting against a rather dated image of what the natural sciences are about. More recent work in physics demonstrates that the natural world is not through-and-through the billiard-ball universe envisioned in the Newtonian model. That model does a good job of explaining physical phenomena on the scale we observe with our unaided abilities of human perception. Wheels, levers and billiard balls will move as predicted by Newtonian equations. However, in the centuries since Newton, when scientists have examined phenomena that are much bigger (e.g., in astronomy) or much smaller (e.g. in particle physics), the image of the natural world as a mechanical and deterministic machine has been shown to be inadequate. Study of black holes, quantum mechanics, and complexity bring in elements that cannot be explained with mechanical notions. Energies, interrelations, a large role for randomness, and fundamental unpredictability are now recognized as important parts of the nature of ‘nature’.”

    • Neal Lang

      “I for one would like to reserve the term “economic enlightenment” for sound economic knowledge and reasoning rather than rote memorization.”

      Of course, it might merely be associated from simple observation.

      In the REAL WORLD does restictions on development make housing MORE AFFORDABLE? Yes or no?

      In the REAL WORLD does mandatory licensing of professionals INCREASE THE SUPPLY of professionals? Yeas or No?

      In the REAL WORLD does rent control lead to MORE AVAILABILITY of housing? Yes or No?

      True Enlightment is seeing how the World really is and believing what you see – not what you would like to believe! This is the learning impediment of Progressives – they can see things as they are and still refuse to believe what they see when such contridicts their prejudices!

    • http://www.acton.org John Couretas

      Rev: What about the Pew study that showed a majority of 18-29-year-olds with a favorable view of socialism? Were Progressives better at indoctrinating 20-somethings with the “party line” or is this an example of what you call “economic enlightenment”? Note also the results for Libertarians.

    • Neal Lang

      “In what sense can economics be termed a science?”

      What is science?

      Science is a concern for only that which is materially provable. Most economics theories are materially proveable, hence economics is a science as much as physics is a science.

    • Neal Lang

      “Rev: What about the Pew study that showed a majority of 18-29-year-olds with a favorable view of socialism? Were Progressives better at indoctrinating 20-somethings with the “party line” or is this an example of what you call ‘economic enlightenment’? Note also the results for Libertarians.”

      This is the impact of John Dewey on the American Public Education System aided and abetted by MSM and the Entertainment Industry.

    • Neal Lang

      “It’s a kindness that the Liberals weren’t asked if they favored cannabalism, then whether they approve of embryonic stem cell research. Or should America approve polygamy in any form, then asked about multiple no-fault divorces (serial polygamy).”

      Another question for the Progressives might be if we believe that we all have “A ‘Duty to Die’?”

      See Thomas Sowell’s article at: http://www.gopusa.com/commentary/tsowell/2010/ts_0511p.shtml

      Sowell, BTW, is a practicianer of the science of economics.

    • http://www.uncensoredrev.com Uncensored Rev.

      “Of course, it might merely be associated from simple observation.”

      Given politicians’ adeptness at throwing economic rocks and hiding their hands, I doubt very much that, for most conservatives and even libertarians, making the “real-world” connection between housing restrictions and less affordable housing, on the one hand, and rent control and housing shortages, on the other, is a matter of “simple observation.” Besides, conservatives tend the believe that excessive taxation and deficit spending is the extent of the government’s deleterious intervention in the economy

    • http://www.uncensoredrev.com Uncensored Rev.

      ***I click the “Submit” button by accident, here’s the rest of what I meant to type.***

      while the average libertarian seems to want economic freedom, not because capitalism and the free market is more efficient per se, but because governments are too tyrannical.

      “True Enlightment is seeing how the World really is and believing what you see – not what you would like to believe! This is the learning impediment of Progressives – they can see things as they are and still refuse to believe what they see when such contridicts their prejudices!”

      Economics 101: People often draw the wrong conclusions, not because of what they see, but more so because of what they do not see. Many, if not most, conservatives and libertarians included.