United Kingdom

Basic Math a Little Beyond the Comprehension of Most British MPs

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Ok everyone, time for a quick math quiz. 

If a coin is flipped twice, what is the probability that it will come up heads both times? I understand that afternoons can be draining, so please feel free to say you don't know. 

The answer is of course 1/4, or 25 percent. One might hope that this basic grade school level arithmetic might not be beyond the abilities of politicians who manage national budgets, wage war, and run prisons, schools, and hospitals. 

Alas, this is not the case.

Ninety-Seven of the House of Commons' 650 Members of Parliament were asked the question above by Ipso Mori. Only 23 percent of Labour MPs and 53 percent of Conservative MPs answered correctly. Amazingly, 45 percent of polled MPs claimed that the answer was 50 percent. Perhaps most depressingly is how confident MPs said they were in their numerical skills, with 76 percent of Tories and 72 percent of Labour MPs saying that they were confident when dealing with numbers. It is of some reassurance that seven percent of MPs were ok saying that they did not know the answer.

These figures really shouldn't surprise us, especially when one considers how good British politicians are at screwing up the economy. 

Indeed, the exact size of the UK's debt (and indeed the difference between the debt and the deficit) baffles a frightening number of MPs. A particularly scary part of Britain's Trillion Pound Horror Story illustrates this point from 07:20:

Of course, it's not just the politicians who are misinformed or arithmetically challenged, the great public here and in the UK leave a lot to be desired. As Bryan Caplan has pointed out, even those of us who think we are rational when it comes to voting and the economy are far from impressive.