A recent issue of an online journal, the Economics Journal Watch, included an article titled: “Economic Enlightenment in Relation to College-going, Ideology, and Other Variables: A Zogby Survey of Americans.”
Drawing on the results of a Zogby poll, the authors of the article concluded the following:
Economic enlightenment is not correlated with going to college, at least among the 4835 Americans who completed a Zogby International online survey. Economic enlightenment is highest among those self-identifying “conservative” and “libertarian,” and descends through “moderate,” “liberal,” and “progressive.”
Wow—is it true that college doesn’t contribute to economic enlightenment—and even more importantly that conservatives are more enlightened than progressives?
The question that immediately springs to mind is: what defines economic enlightenment? And here is where it gets fun. The Zogby survey which generated the data for the article included 21 questions on economics, 16 of which involved a question that required an answer in the following form:
1. Strongly Agree
2. Somewhat Agree
3. Somewhat Disagree
4. Strongly Disagree
5. Not sure
Of the 16 questions, the authors of the paper decided to focus on only 8 in their attempt to define economic enlightenment. They “omitted 8 of the economic questions in that format because they are not as useful in gauging economic enlightenment, either because the question is too vague or too narrowly factual, or because the enlightened answer is too uncertain or arguable.”
So—here are the eight questions that the authors used to define economic enlightenment and the answers that defined unenlightened. And, yes, I am taking this right from the article.
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.
Pretty unbiased, huh. Clearly only an unenlightened person would think that free trade causes unemployment, or that multinationals exploit workers. And only an unenlightened person would think that raising the minimum wage helps workers.
And remember these are the questions that are supposed to have clear cut, unambiguous answers.
There are in fact grounds for challenging the “correct” or “enlightened” answers to all of the questions—or at least demanding a clarification of what is the critical issue underlying the question. For example, rent control doesn’t reduce housing supply for the simple reason that new housing is normally not covered by rent control. A company that dominates a market might not be a monopoly in a technical sense but could well exercise monopoly like power. As for comparing our standard of living now with 30 years ago—real wages are certainly lower.
This is downright embarrassing, what else can one say.
How about this for fun—if you have ideas for better questions send them along as comments. Lets see if we can collectively create something a bit more useful.
Finally, if you have some extra time you might want to check out the results of a recent national survey by the Pew Center for the People and the Press “that tests reactions to words and phrases frequently used in current political discourse.” Among other things, the survey results revealed that:
“Socialism” is a negative for most Americans, but certainly not all Americans. “Capitalism” is regarded positively by a majority of the public, though it is a thin majority. There are certain segments of the public – notably, young people and Democrats – where both “isms” are rated about equally.
Young people are more positive about “socialism” and more negative about “capitalism” than are older Americans. Among those younger than 30, identical percentages react positively to the words “socialism” and “capitalism” — 43% each.