Ritchie doesn\’t like this!

The more you study economics the more likely you are to be Republican and to hold free-market views.

How terrible, eh? The more you study astronomy the more likely you are to think the Earth is not flat, the more you study physics the more likely you are to think that gravity works, not the Earth sucks, the more you study medicine the more likely you are to think that conventional medicine has its points as opposed to Mail style Woo!

The more you study economics the more likely you are to conclude that this capitalism/free market blend has something to do with the fact that we\’re rich enough to be able to study economics.

Such a shocker when the study of a subject actually teaches you something about that subject, isn\’t it?

But the best bit is this:

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.

Isn\’t it fun that someone has just published a survey which shows that those leaning rightwards (which is what Republican means, there are some as wet as Francis Pym was as well as those more forcefully righty) are indeed more informed as to the basics of the interaction between economics and the real world.

And what does Ritchie say about, no, not this survey, but that the economically informed lean right?

But it does show just how biased, opinionated and thoroughly normative economics is.

I had to go and look up normative economics just to check that I wasn\’t having a brain spasm:

It is common to distinguish normative economics (\”what ought to be\” in economic matters) from positive economics (\”what is\”).

Umm, those questions there and their answers are not normative economics at all: they are positive economics. They are not describing what ought to be: they are describing what is.

Normative economics would be such things as: the rich ought to pay more tax, the workers should get higher wages….positive economics is, well, OK, maybe they should but in the real world there\’s a limit to how much you can tax the rich before either or both future growth is constrained or tax revenues fall. Maybe the workers should get more: but at least at some level minimum wages curtail employment. Wishes and shoulds are wonderful but we do have to test them against what is.

And so on etc.

That is, it is Ritchie who is the great advocate of normative economics and us proper liberals who are the great practitioners of positive economics.

But then he did say that he didn\’t pay attention to his economics lectures, didn\’t he?

11 thoughts on “Ritchie doesn\’t like this!”

  1. did you read the bit about how undergrad economists have more doctrinaire free market views than PhDs?

  2. There’s a big chunk of Dem voters, and left wingers in general who know that this capitalism/free market blend has something to do with the fact that we’re rich. Some might believe that it’s having a free market complemented a set of property rights, institutions, the state and appropriate regulations and etc. that got us to where we are. So it’s not obvious that understanding economics would mean leaning toward Republicans, some of whose policies (arguably) aren’t good economics.

    I have linked to this before, but you really ought to read the papers linked to at bottom of this page, they’re pretty good:


  3. @Luis,

    There appears to be an even bigger chunk of Dems and left wingers who think that we are rich despite capitalism and free markets. If only we could get rid of them we could be even wealthier is the modern progressive thinking.

  4. TGS –

    if I could somehow “get rid” of that wing of the left-wing, I’d be a lot happier about calling myself left wing. But I’m not sure how you know this wing (chunk) is bigger than the pro-capitalist left. They may be a lot noisier on blogs and in intellectual (ahem) outlets, but as for actual ordinary Joe Dem / Lab voters, I suspect the story changes.

  5. Luis: the interesting thing about the figures you cite on economics undergrads and economists (assuming we’re reading the same bit of the report, p. 33), is that only on redistribution are the economists and the undergrads on opposite sides of public opinion. In the other examples, the economists are further away from mainstream opinion but on the same side as the undergrads. So with that one exception, it seems that whatever an economics degree does to you, an economics PhD does, only more so.

  6. My problem with this sort of thing (notwithstanding my agreement with Luis about some of the ‘idiot left’), is the way the language and phrasing is couched.

    I studied as much polling theory as I did economics, but have spent a lot of time since uni reading more and more economics, partially through Tim and the likes of Chris Dillow and Tim Harford.

    A lot of the language economists use is offputting to those with leftish views who know little about economics or the terminology. If you rephrase the question or economic principle in language that doesn’t sound “Thatcherite” or my pet hate, “neo-liberal” (meaningless phrase), you can frequently get agreement.

    “1) Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services” becomes “giving Doctors special privilege within a free market allows them to charge more”. Exactly the same thing, but different effect.

    “3) Rent control leads to housing shortages” could be “Developers are less likely to build more property for rent if profits are controlled”.

    Re 4 specifically; up until a few years ago, Microsoft was considered to have an effective monopoly in certain IT sectors, and was actually found to have abused its position as a result. At no point did it have a full monopoly, but it was close. If your market share is so dominant you have over 90%, then that’s going to be referred to as a monopoly by a lot of people, even if, technically, it isn’t.

    Regardless though, my understanding of these issues is what leads some on the “left” to decide I’m horribly right wing, but most on the “right” think I’m a dangerous lefty, and I think they’re correct to do so.

    Then, I prefer “liberal”, and have always considered liberalism to be proper leftwingery, the authoritarian centralisers in some parts of the “left” are just another type of Tory…

  7. Perhaps there should be another study showing if people who have read the Koran have less positive views about Islam?

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