Erikson, Althaus, and Why I'm Grateful to be in Econ
By Bryan Caplan
Scott Althaus is the leading scholar of “enlightened preferences.” In his book, he provides a massive body of evidence showing that people who know more about politics have systematically different policy preferences – even controlling for a long list of potential confounding variables. His results are highly compatible with mine, so I naturally find it interesting to see how other political scientists respond to Althaus’ work.
In the latest Critical Review, we get the reaction of Robert Erikson (of the famous trio of MacKuen, Erikson, and Stimson). Erikson is respectful but unconvinced. He has a whole list of reasons, but I found this passage most remarkable:
On economic issues the fully informed electorate is more supportive of free-market solutions and opposed to government services. Yet the informed electorate is also more supportive of taxation. Not only would “full information” push redistributive preferences generally rightward; the biggest push would be among the poor, perhaps unexpectedly… The net result of greater awareness would not simply be a more conservative electorate economically, but also one with smaller class divisions. This is far from the vision of liberal reformers.
At least on my reading, Erikson is assuming that the typical political scientist is so left-wing that these results count as a reductio ad absurdum. In their eyes, the finding that greater knowledge would make people less economically left-wing tends to discredit the results.
It’s not clear if Erikson himself sees Althaus’ findings as a reductio ad absurdum. Either way, though, he’s once again made me grateful to be in econ!