Last year, George Mason University economist Daniel Klein and Zogby survey researcher Zeljka Buturovic did a study that concluded that progressives were deeply ignorant of economic facts. They ballyhooed their results in a Wall Street Journal op/ed which tendentiously asked, Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? The conclusion was that most leftists weren't. The op/ed reported:
The other questions were: 1) Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services (unenlightened answer: disagree). 2) Overall, the standard of living is higher today than it was 30 years ago (unenlightened answer: disagree). 3) Rent control leads to housing shortages (unenlightened answer: disagree). 4) A company with the largest market share is a monopoly (unenlightened answer: agree). 5) Third World workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited (unenlightened answer: agree). 6) Free trade leads to unemployment (unenlightened answer: agree). 7) Minimum wage laws raise unemployment (unenlightened answer: disagree).
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.
Not too surprisingly, they got some push back from progressives who claimed that their survey questions were biased against left-leaners. So they decided to run the survey again adding some new questions. Klein now ruefully writes over at The Atlantic that the original survey actually showed his bias, not the economic stupidity of leftists. The new survey added some new questions to the original ones:
Here's what we came up with, again with the incorrect response in parentheses: a dollar means more to a poor person than it does to a rich person (disagree); making abortion illegal would increase the number of black-market abortions (disagree); legalizing drugs would give more wealth and power to street gangs and organized crime (agree); drug prohibition fails to reduce people's access to drugs (agree); gun-control laws fail to reduce people's access to guns (agree); by participating in the marketplace in the United States, immigrants reduce the economic well-being of American citizens (agree); when a country goes to war, its citizens experience an improvement in economic well-being (agree); when two people complete a voluntary transaction, they both necessarily come away better off (agree); when two people complete a voluntary transaction, it is necessarily the case that everyone else is unaffected by their transaction (agree).
Once the new questions were added, their new study [download PDF] finds that there's not much difference in the level of ignorance that various ideological tendencies have:
On the second set of questions, the new nine, the left groups do much better than the other groups. [Our result] shows that, on the new nine, the number incorrect, on average, is as follows: Progressives 2.00, Liberals 2.35, Conservatives 4.00, Very Conservatives 4.57, and Libertarians 3.82.
Klein and Buturovic now conclude:
As tempting as it might be to think that folks of your own persuasion are, on the whole, especially scrupulous in their judgments, the results of our surveys certainly do not authorize any such conclusions, regardless of what your persuasion happens to be. At this point the reasonable conclusion is that the various groups do equally badly.
Klein and Buturovic end with an important and sobering insight about the role that public ignorance plays in policy:
Adam Smith suggested that most people are "unfit to judge" of public policy issues. Our new results might perhaps be useful in bolstering a presumption against the governmentalization of social affairs, because governmentalization tends on balance to inject expressive politics, foolishness, and worse into the ways those affairs are organized and conducted.
Of course, as a libertarian I would agree with that sentiment. After all, everyone who knows what they are talking about agrees with me.