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Public Statements

Basic Economics

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According to a recent Gallup poll, 42 percent of Americans identify themselves as conservative or very conservative. Twenty percent identify as liberal or very liberal.

The liberals may be outnumbered, but they currently occupy key positions of power. They dominate the media, academia, and much of government. But are they smarter than the rest of us?

There's a lot to say for everyday common sense. In fact, don't be so quick to dismiss the practical wisdom of Main Street, suggests Daniel Klein, an economics professor at George Mason University in Virginia.

Klein recently conducted a survey of about 5,000 Americans and asked them questions about basic economics. Those surveyed answered how they identified themselves politically, from very conservative to very liberal. What Klein found was that, as he described in the June 8 Wall Street Journal, those who consider themselves as most liberal do poorly on his test.

For example, around two-thirds of liberals disagreed with the statement, "Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable."

As Klein notes, "Basic economics acknowledges that whatever redeeming features a restriction may have, it increases the cost of production and exchange, making goods and services less affordable."

A large majority of liberals also disagreed with the statement that, "Overall, the standard of living is higher than it was 30 years ago."

I find it hard to believe that many Americans believe we were better off in 1980 -- think of all the medical and technological advances since then. Cell phones are a good example. In 1980, few people had mobile phones, which were large, heavy, and downright inconvenient. Today, almost everyone has a cell phone, which can do things like take photos, shoot video, and provide access to the Internet. These are the kinds of things most of us take for granted, but they represent significant improvements in our daily lives. Klein also asked questions about free trade, the minimum wage, and regulations, and consistently found that liberals couldn't answer basic economic questions. As he concludes, "the left has trouble squaring economic thinking with their political psychology, morals and aesthetics."

That sentiment is something to consider when policy makers describe legislation in economic terms. Liberals' economic analysis may very well be faulty and based more on political motivations than they let on. The Obama administration -- staffed by economists like Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard, and Christina Romer, a professor at Berkeley -- claimed that the economic stimulus plan would keep unemployment from exceeding 8.1 percent. Today, a year-and-a-half later, unemployment hovers around 10 percent. Indeed, the stimulus showered taxpayer dollars on favored constituencies and special interests -- though it was sold to the American people on the basis that it would help stimulate the economy.

The late William F. Buckley once said, "I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University."

Klein's study is yet another reminder that the so-called experts do not have all the answers and, at times, may be downright wrong.


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